Recently, The US House of Representatives passed a legislative amendment that exempts India from economic sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) , for purchasing the S-400 missile defence system from Russia in 2018.
CAATSA is a law that came into effect in the US in 2017, and was meant to punish countries having deep engagements with Russia, North Korea, and Iran using economic sanctions. It said countries having a “significant transaction” with Russian intelligence and military agents will be subject to at least five kinds of sanctions.
Ordinary transactions will not invite sanctions, and the decision of who has sanctions imposed on them comes down to the interpretation of “significant transaction”. This is one of the various waivers or exemptions mentioned, such as the transaction not affecting US strategic interests, not endangering the alliances it is a part of, etc.
India has purchased the S-400 Triumf missile system, which has advanced capabilities to judge the distance from a target and launch a surface-to-air missile attack. Five such systems were bought by India in 2018 for US$ 5.5 billion and in November last year, their delivery began. They were deployed in Punjab.
However, the application of CAATSA is not limited to the S-400, and may include other joint ventures for manufacturing or developing weapons in the future, or any other kinds of major deals with Russia.
In 2020, Turkey was sanctioned for its purchase of the S-400 system.
Why was CAATSA not imposed on India till now?
The US had never categorically stated whether CAATSA would apply to India. In March 2022, it was reported that President Biden was yet to decide on the matter, possibly due to India’s importance as a strategic ally in the region for the US.
With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the US hardening its stance against Russia, India has continued its neutrality and not joined any of the sanctions against Russia imposed by Western countries. India has mentioned the need for the S-400 missiles for its border defence several times in the past.
The External Affairs Ministry had stated that “India has always pursued an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defence acquisitions and supplies which are guided by our national security interests.”