India, Russia ink $5 billion S-400 deal despite US sanctions threat

  • Category
    World Affairs
  • Published
    10th Oct, 2018



  • India has signed a deal for five S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems with Russia during the annual summit between the two countries led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting President Vlamidir Putin.
  • The deal has been inked despite concerns registered by the US, which has slapped sanctions on Russia, related to purchase of the missile systems capable of knocking down jets, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles at a range of 400km.
  • India is seeking a sanctions waiver, given that Russian-origin weaponry is in widespread use in the Indian armed forces.


  • S-400 defense system: It is a missile defence system intended to act as a shield against incoming ballistic missiles. Made operation in 2007, it is the fourth generation of long-range Russian SAMs. Currently, it is identified as the world’s most dangerous operationally deployed modern long-range surface-to-air missile system. It was deployed in Syria in 2015 to guard Russian and Syrian naval and air assets. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, too, are negotiating deals with Russia, and Iraq and Qatar have expressed interest.
  • CAATSA: It is a US federal law aimed at taking punitive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It deals with sanctions on the Russian interest such as oil and gas industry, defence and security sector, and financial institutions, in the backdrop of its military intervention in Ukraine and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. Section 231 of the Act empowers the US President to impose sanctions on persons engaged in a “significant transaction” with Russian defence and intelligence sectors. He is authorized to suspend export licenses related to munitions, dual-use and nuclear related items; and put a ban on American investment in equity/debt of the sanctioned person. Thus, with strong transactional defense engagement between India and Russia, it has the potential to adversely affect India-Russia trade, besides putting to test India’s growing defence and security relations with the United States.


  • India-Russia Defense Relations: Indo-Russian trade is largely defence driven. The bulk of India’s military equipment is of Soviet/Russian origin, making it Russia’s biggest weapons buyer. In the past, India acquired—nuclear submarine INS Chakra, Kilo-class conventional submarine, supersonic Brahmos cruise missile, MiG and Sukhoi fighters, Il transport aircraft, T-72 and T-90 tanks, Mi helicopters, and Vikramaditya aircraft carrier—from Russia.


India’s need S-400

India has volatile borders. The two of India’s biggest security treats come from Pakistan and China. China has already bought six battalions of the S-400 system in 2015, deliveries for which has begun from January 2018. With current acquisition, India is at a stronger ground as S-400 can play a crucial role in case of a two-front war. The Indian Air Force intends to use S-400 in the ‘offensive air defence’ role rather than its designed role of protecting high-value targets like Delhi, for which it was originally proposed.

Other gains from the deal

Bilateral: India’s defense engagements with Russia become deeper. Russia has managed to secure one of the biggest arms deals in recent times. It is apparent that Russia commands a massive lead over its competitors in the Indian defence sector, and is a crucial supplier of advanced weapons for India

Strategic: Russia is no longer coy about selling weapons to Pakistan. But by making big-ticket purchases, India hopes it discourages Russia from selling any advanced weapons to Pakistan.

Significance of the deal vis-à-vis sanction threat

The US recently sanctioned China for buying the S-400 and Su-35 fighter jets from Russia. But, India is likely to get a waiver from the US. If India gets it, it will signify how strategically important India is, for both Russia and the US.

India had been pursuing for this deal since 2015, well before Donald Trump became the US president and CAATSA was legislated. India has spent a lot of political capital to get a waiver. It was one of the main talking points during the 2+2 dialogue between India and the US.

Sanctions can also be taken as a coercion tactic to stop India from buying the S-400, and also to push US air defence systems, like the PAC-3, in India. The US is willing to gain from a potential 200 fifth generation fighter jet requirement of India.

It is believed that, with the deal, India has displayed strategic autonomy. However, as a country which imports majority of its critical weapons, it will always limit India’s strategic autonomy.

Although, India has come a long way since the days of NAM, given the volatility of Indian neighbourhood, it is critical that India maintains balanced relations with major powers instead of pushing its luck with one. In the process of doing so, there will be many cases of walking on a tight rope, like the current one.

Learning Aid

Practice Question

India-Russia relationship is no longer what it used to be. Do you agree? What are the bottlenecks in their relations? Discuss in context of India’s growing closeness to the U.S


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