Washington: US sanctions on Russian military exports have put the brakes on a $6 billion deal with India and may derail the arms purchases of other US allies around Asia, experts say.
Under a law that US President Donald Trump signed in August, any country trading with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors will face sanctions.
The law is designed to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
But American allies who buy weapons and equipment from Russia, the world’s second-largest arms exporter, could suffer as well. The highest-profile example is India, which wants to buy five S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems that the country’s military sees as a game changer. The systems are touted as being able to counter the ballistic missiles and stealth aircraft that China is developing, while overwhelming the capabilities of Pakistan, India’s other main adversary.
The deal, which Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck as part of an inter-government agreement in 2016, has run headlong into the US sanctions law, two officials in Delhi said.
Indonesia and Vietnam also buy weapons from Russia while being regional partners of the United States. Jakarta closed a $1.14 billion pact for Sukhoi fighters recently, while Vietnam is seeking more jet fighter-bombers from Russia.
And with both Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation, which makes the S-400, and Rosoboronexport, which negotiates Russian export deals, listed as under sanction, those deals have become trickier.
“The optics of a major arms purchase from Russia looks quite ‘iffy’ from the point of view of Western capitals, especially at a time when Russia-West relations are at an all-time low and India seeks strategic convergence with the West, including with the US” said Abhijnan Rej, a defence strategy expert at Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank.
The US-led airstrikes this month against facilities of the Syrian government, an ally of Russia, has further aggravated tensions between the superpowers. A Russian source close to the Indian S-400 deal said “a lot will depend on the confidence and sanity of our Indian partners.”