On September 20, the US announced the first sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), which authorises the US Executive to impose sanctions on any entity involved in a “significant” defence transaction with Russia. The sanctions – on a Chinese entity and its management – were in response to the Chinese import of S-400 air defence systems and Su-35 fighter aircraft. The timing of the announcement and its stated justification merit attention. The Chinese imports of these platforms were well over eight months ago. In the meanwhile, there has never been any talk of applying CAATSA to China, mainly because, as US officials have admitted publicly, US commercial interests are the principal trigger for invoking CAATSA. There is no question of US wanting to sell weapons to China. It may, therefore, be reasonably concluded that President Putin’s visit to India, two weeks later, influenced the timing of the US announcement. In a background briefing, a US State Department senior official indicated that other countries importing the S-400 could also attract CAATSA. The implications of CAATSA for India-Russia and India-US defence cooperation has been discussed in recent high-level India-US consultations. This does not seem to have diluted the hawkish US public stance, designed to warn India that every defence deal it contemplates with Russia will remain under the US scanner. The Putin visit may provide some clues on how the two countries propose to tackle this major challenge.
September 30, 2018