NEW DELHI: Washington’s approval of a waiver to protect India from possible US sanctions for ordering a Russian defense system is a sign that it does not want to jeopardize relations with New Delhi amid the China’s military rise in the Indo-Pacific region, experts say.
Delhi signed a $5 billion deal with Moscow to purchase an S-400 Triumph air defense missile system during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India in 2018, despite the threat posed by the law American Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
Under the law, the United States can sanction any country that has “significant transactions” with Iran, North Korea or Russia.
As the United States imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying the S-400 system, the House of Representatives on Thursday approved a waiver of the law specifically for India “to help deter aggressors like China” .
The motion, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, comes as the West pressures Delhi to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. India has so far failed to abide by UN resolutions condemning Moscow, its longtime ally and main arms supplier.
Although the Indian government has not commented on the matter, experts see the waiver as a message that Washington is reluctant to jeopardize its security ties with its strategic partner in South Asia, as it is in the interests of both countries. to counter the influence of China. in the Indo-Pacific region.
“The biggest strategic push comes from the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific, where the political executive as well as the legislature in the United States are on a page that India needs to engage with in a substantial way, and any kind of sanctions could jeopardize the upward movement of India-US relations,” Professor Harsh Pant of the Observer Research Foundation told Arab News.
According to him, India needs the defense system amid a military buildup on the Line of Actual Control, its de facto border with China.
“A missile defense system like the S-400 is important for maintaining the strategic balance along the LAC with China,” Pant said.
“India has argued that its military needs are such that it cannot afford not to have this platform. The way the military balance between India and China has changed along the border , such a missile defense system is essential to India’s operational readiness.
India has been at odds with China in the Himalayan border region of Ladakh since 2019, with the two countries failing to agree despite several rounds of talks.
Dr Bharat Karnad, a national security expert at the Center for Policy Research in Delhi, said the motion by US lawmakers was a realization that “they cannot afford to punish India”.
“It’s the concession to get a more important strategic good, which is to contain China,” he said.
“Americans want India on their side when they face China, and that’s the main thing. Russia here becomes the secondary spectacle.
Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director of the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, told Arab News that the United States and India have dealt with the fallout from the Russian-Ukrainian war on their relations.
“It shows that the United States understands India’s position and importance,” he said. “This proposed amendment seeks to recognize that sanctioning India for purchasing defense materials from Russia is not in the national interest of the United States.”