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Undeterred by US Sanctions, India now eyes Russian Kamov Helicopters with tech transfer

In a clear indication that India was not going to buckle under the threat of US sanction over the S-400 missile deal with Russia, Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat on Sunday said the country has an independent foreign policy and it might go ahead with acquiring the Kamov helicopters and other weapon systems from Moscow.

The Army chief’s statement is significant as New Delhi is confronted with the threat of US sanction under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) after India on Friday signed a multi-billion-dollar deal to procure the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia. Gen Rawat, who returned on Saturday night after a six-day visit to Russia, had held talks with military officials of that country to enhance bilateral cooperation. He said the Russians were very keen on associating with the Indian defence forces.

“They (Russians) do understand that we are a strong Army, capable of standing up for what is right for us, based on our strategic thought process,” he said while delivering the Gen KV Krishna Rao Memorial lecture here.

On his Russian visit, Gen Rawat recalled a question posed to him by a Russian naval officer that India seemed to be looking westwards at America, which has put sanctions on Russia, and that Washington has also threatened to impose restrictions on New Delhi for dealing with Moscow. To this, Rawat responded saying, “Yes, we do appreciate that there could be sanctions on us, but we follow an independent policy”.

Seeking to assuage Russian concerns over India’s growing ties with the US, Rawat said, “You (Russia) can be rest assured (that) while we may be associating with America in getting some technology, but we follow an independent policy. I told them while we are talking sanctions and you are questioning on sanctions, President Vladimir Putin and Mr Narendra Modi, at this juncture, are signing the treaty on purchase of S-400 weapon system in spite of the fact that we may face challenges from America in the future.”

Disclosing that India was looking forward to procuring Kamov helicopters and other weapon systems and technology from Russia, he said New Delhi was looking to get space-based systems and technologies from Moscow to enhance its space capabilities.

“There is no end in sight to the manner in which we can cooperate with your country. I think the way forward is to see what is best for the nation, strategically important for us,” he had said.

In a guarded reaction to the Indo-Russian deal, the US said on Friday that its intent to slap sanctions on Russia was not aimed at causing damage to the military capabilities of its “allies or partners.”

“The (CAATSA presidential) waiver is narrow, intended to wean countries off Russian equipment and allow for things such as spare parts for previously-purchased equipment,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told PTI hours after the conclusion of the S-400 contract. But for the presidential waiver, CAATSA sanctions come into place in the event of a major purchase like S-400 missile defence system. Ahead of the deal, the US had urged India not to purchase Russian defence systems. “The Administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability - including the S-400 air and missile defence system,” the White House NSC spokesperson said.

Last month, the US had imposed sanctions on China for the purchase of S-400 from Russia. “Our recent action to sanction a Chinese Government entity for an S-400 delivery underscores the seriousness of our resolve on this issue. The waiver authority is not country-specific. There are strict criteria for considering a waiver,” said the spokesperson.

The State Department, which is tasked with reviewing the deal and initiating the process of sanctions or waiver under CAATSAA, and make recommendations to the President, did not respond to questions. However, an industry source said the law is ambiguous about “when a waiver is necessary so this can be avoided for years”.

The National Defense Authorization ACT (NDDA) 2019 gives the president the power to waive of the CAATSA sanctions if it is a national security interest.

It also mentions several other reasons for a presidential waiver, prominent among which is if the purchasing country is taking or will take steps to reduce its inventory of major defense equipment and advanced conventional weapons produced by the defence sector of the Russian Federation as a share of its total inventory of major defence equipment and advanced conventional weapons over a specified period.

In fact, over the last decade, India the top arms purchaser of the world, has gradually reduced its dependence on Russian weapons. It now stands at about 60 per cent, which is much lower than it was a decade ago. As part of its diversification plan, India has increased its purchase of arms from the US to the tune of $18 billion. A presidential waiver can also be given if a country is cooperating with the US Government on other security matters critical to US strategic interests. Experts believe that is exactly the case and one of the main reasons for the US designating India as a ‘Major Defence Partner.’

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