India risks US sanctions with $5bn purchase of Russian missiles

Russia’s S-400 air defense missile systems ride through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow on May 9. India and Russia are set to sign a S-400 missile deal, estimated at more than $5 billion. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018

India risks US sanctions with $5bn purchase of Russian missiles

  • India’s military wants the missile batteries, both as a deterrent against China and to gain an edge over traditional rival Pakistan
  • The US has warned countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors they would face automatic sanctions

NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: The US has warned India against a planned purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia when President Vladimir Putin’s visits New Delhi this week, saying such an acquisition would attract sanctions under American law.
India’s military wants the missile batteries, both as a deterrent against China and to gain an edge over traditional rival, Pakistan, as they are able to track and shoot down combat aircraft, even stealth planes, at unprecedented ranges.
India and Russia will sign the missile deal, estimated at more than $5 billion, during Putin’s visit for annual summit talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi beginning on Thursday, a Kremlin aide said.
But the US has warned countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors they would face automatic sanctions under a sweeping legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that President Donald Trump signed into law last August.
The law is designed to punish Putin for the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
“We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that would trigger sanctions under the CAATSA,” a US State Department representative said.
“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 defense system.”
Last month, the US imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of combat fighters as well as the S-400 missile system it bought from Russia this year.
The US is also concerned about NATO ally Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian missile system, seeing it as incompatible with the alliance systems.
Modi’s government, caught in the US-Russia crossfire, hopes the Trump administration will give it a pass on the proposed arms transfer from Russia, officials in New Delhi said.
Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters India was closing in on the deal to buy the air defense system from Russia, with which it has long-standing military ties.
“Negotiation on S-400 air defense systems has been on for a long while and it is at a stage where it can be finalized,” Sitharaman said last week. “We have a big legacy of buying defense equipment from Russia.”
More than 80 percent of India’s military equipment was of Soviet origin during the days of the Cold War, but since its breakup New Delhi has diversified its weaponry.
The US is one of its top arms suppliers, closing $15 billion worth of deals in just the last decade.
US firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing lead the race to sell the Indian military hundreds of aircraft to replace its aging Russian MiG planes.
The Modi government hopes the Trump administration will not disrupt burgeoning defense ties with the world’s biggest arm importer by levying sanctions the US Congress has sought.
The Trump administration faced competing pressures from Congress pursuing a hard line on Russia, said Jeff Smith, a specialist on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation.
“The administration was critical of the CAATSA and fought hard for a national security waiver at the cabinet secretary level but was denied by Congress,” he said.
“The administration is not only trying to navigate competing geopolitical interests but relatively stringent conditions imposed by a Congress determined to tie its hands on Russia policy.”


Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

Updated 21 min 34 sec ago

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, confirms Taliban spokesman

  • Zabihullah Mujahid tells Arab News the Americans had yet to free Taliban detainees
  • The Afghan insurgent group is holding two university professors of American and Australian descent since 2016

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban did not take place since the Americans had not released three Taliban leaders.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that three Taliban prisoners were going to be released in return for two academics of American and Australian descent who taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have kept the professors, Kevin King and Timothy John Weeks, in captivity since 2016.
Ghani also named the Taliban detainees who included: Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban deputy chief, Siraj ud Din Haqqani, his maternal uncle, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Rashid Omari, brother of the Taliban’s political negotiator, Mohammed Nabi Omari.
Mali Khan was arrested by the Americans in eastern Khost province in 2011.
Anas, who was inducted in the insurgent group’s negotiating team in February, was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014.
He was accompanied by another Taliban leader, Rashid, who had gone to Qatar to meet five Taliban leaders who had been freed from the Guantanamo prison. They were later handed over to the Afghan authorities.
In August 2016, an Afghanistan court had awarded Anas a death sentence.
An earlier media report suggested that Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan and had reached Qatar, where they would be handed over to the Taliban political office.
However, Mujahid told Arab News on Friday that the swap did not take place and the Taliban prisoners were still in the Bagram jail in the north of Afghan capital Kabul.
“There was an agreement that the Americans will take our prisoners to a location and in return we will release the two professors later. But they have not fulfilled their promise by taking our people to that venue. Under the circumstances, we are still holding the American and Australian professors hostage. And there is no progress in the deal so far,” the Taliban spokesman said in an audio sent to Arab News.
Experts in Afghanistan said that delay in the prisoner swap was the result of deep mistrust on all sides.
Zakir Jalai, a television commentator and Afghan peace activist, said the prisoner issue was very sensitive and the Afghan government was under intense pressure not to release Anas Haqqani.
“I think the Taliban do not trust the Americans and will not hand over the professors unless they have complete trust that the US will free the Taliban prisoners,” Jalali told Arab News from Kabul.
“The Taliban will release the professors when their prisoners are handed over,” he said, adding that both, particularly the Taliban, were very cautious in view of their mistrust of the other.
A day after President Ghani announced the swap deal, Taliban leaders sent congratulatory messages to each other and a Taliban official in an audio message, in possession of Arab News, said: “Congratulations, as the plane carrying the freed prisoners has taken off an hour ago.”
A Taliban official earlier said his incarcerated colleagues were taken out of the Bagram prison but were then locked up again in the jail.