India, along with Indonesia and Vietnam, is likely to get a waiver from US sanctions against Russia, South Block sources told The Indian Express Tuesday. The US, sources said, has communicated this to the Indian government, thereby removing one of the friction points in bilateral ties.
A crucial S-400 air defence missile systems deal with Russia would have invited US sanctions. New Delhi had made it clear that it would go ahead with the deal which is in an “advanced stage”.
On the waiver, a South Block source said: “This makes the atmosphere conducive for a productive discussion when the 2+2 dialogue takes place between Defence and Foreign Ministers in September.”
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will host US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis in New Delhi on September 6.
Sources said that a US Congressional committee has proposed waivers for India from stringent sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This is directed against those doing business with Russia’s defence industry.
The Senate and House Armed Services Committee in a joint conference report to the National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA)-2019 provided a modified waiver to section 231 of CAATSA. A conference report refers to the final version of a Bill that is negotiated between the House of Representatives and the Senate via a conference committee.
The NDAA-2019 now moves to the Senate and the House for formal passage before it can be sent to the White House for President Donald Trump to sign into law.
The CAATSA waiver or “carve-out”, however, wants India to gradually reduce Russian-made weapons, and to enhance cooperation with the US.
The US Congress took the call on granting India a waiver after intense lobbying by the US administration, led by Mattis, and Indian diplomats in Washington DC, led by Ambassador Navtej Sarna.
The waiver will allow India to purchase Russian defence equipment. New Delhi’s argument was that “a weaker India in this neighbourhood is not in the US interest”. Sources said that putting India under sanctions would weaken the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US. Moreover, China has been assertive and proactive in the Indo-Pacific region.
New Delhi also pointed out that the US has been one of the major beneficiaries of India’s diversification in defence procurement, and that trend is likely to continue with India being designated as a “major defence partner” of the US.