The S-400 Triumph air defense system is produced by the Almaz Central Design Bureau in Russia. It is an upgrade of the old S-300 defense system. It is capable of firing three types of missiles at short, medium and long range, which creates a layered defense. These missiles work in integration with autonomous detection and targeting systems, anti-aircraft missile systems, multifunctional radars and launchers. It can simultaneously destroy 36 targetsincluding all types of air targets, radar detection, ballistic and cruise missiles and hypersonic targets, at a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles) and an altitude of up to 30 kilometers.
So far, Belarus, China, Turkey and India have purchased the S-400s. The Saudis have also started talks with Russia. Turkey is the first NATO member state to buy it. However, other NATO member states such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece had already purchased the Russian S-300 defense system. The United States imposed economic sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) on Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s. The applicability of CAATSA to India’s purchase of S-400s remains a puzzle, and discussions regarding a sanctions waiver for India are of great importance to the United States.
In 2018, India signed a deal worth $5.43 billion for five S-400 defense systems with Russia. The delivery had to start towards the end of 2020, while the first delivery took place in December 2021. Since the S-400 agreement between China and Turkey led to the CAATSA sanctions, it was expected that the States States also follow the same procedures for India. However, for geopolitical and geostrategic reasons, India could conceivably qualify for sanction waiver under a clause in the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2019. (NDAA) which allows the US President to issue a CAATSA sanctions waiver. Nevertheless, the issue of granting an exemption has remained ambiguous under the administration of former US President Donald Trump. However, members of the US Senate, the US-India Business Council and some think tanks say that US President Joe Biden’s potential CAATSA sanctions against India negatively affect the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Indian officials announced that the first S-400 battery would be placed on the western border to counter possible Chinese and Pakistani threats. Since its independence in 1947, India has experienced many border disputes with China and Pakistan. China, India, and Pakistan have been a political playing field between the United States and Russia to bolster their regional interests. China’s rapid economic growth and recent military advance have made India an essential partner for the United States.
According to Indian sources, the Biden administration is “willing” to grant India a presidential waiver “only” for the S-400 deal as a one-time exception. A possible waiver of CAATSA sanctions should be implemented on the condition that India reduces its military dependence on Russia. Moreover, the Biden administration will not jeopardize the growing India-US relationship with CAATSA sanctions. The United States has refrained from sanctioning Germany under the Nord Stream 2 energy deal between Germany and Russia. Thus, it is very likely that India will be treated in the same way. Moreover, military cooperation between Russia and India dates back to the Soviet era. Some 86% of India’s military equipment is of Russian origin. For example, Indian air power is mainly equipped with Russian aircraft. On the contrary, US-India military relations date back to post-2001. Thus, the United States is not in a position to force India to withdraw from the S-400 agreement, and economic pressures such as CAATSA would not prevent India from acquiring the S-400, as happened in the case of Turkey.
Another reason the Biden administration is at an impasse is Australia, the United States, India, and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), or the Quad, to advance peace and prosperity in the ‘Indo-Pacific. In addition, the new amendment to the NDAA for fiscal year 2022 makes CAATSA sanctions even harder to apply to Quad members, arguing that imposing CAATSA sanctions on Quad member states will negatively affect security dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. Since the Chinese factor plays a vital role in Indo-American relations, the American factor in Russian-Indian relations is also of utmost importance for Moscow. The deterioration of relations between Russia and the United States in recent years and India’s participation in the Indo-Pacific quadrilateral cooperation have made Russia very uneasy. Nonetheless, numerous bilateral defense and economic deals were signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to New Delhi on December 6, 2021. The deals included India’s production of over 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles . The annual trade volume between the two countries is expected to increase to $30 billion in 2025.
After the political tensions with the United States over Ukraine and Belarus, Putin’s visit to India was a very effective political cooperation against the United States In addition to the purchase of S-400, the two parties signed 28 investment pacts, including steel, shipbuilding, coal and energy. Also, it was reported that Russian oil company Rosneft will supply 2 million tons of oil to India by the end of 2022. It should be noted that India is the second largest arms importer in the world, representing approximately 10% of global defense trade. In an effort to reduce the Indian defense industry’s dependence on Russia, the United States has offered discounts on the sale of 20 Sky Guardian and 10 Sea Guardian drones worth $3 billions of dollars, including the creation of the first maintenance and repair center (MRO) in the region.
In addition to India being part of the Quad Indo-Pacific cooperation and being a major defense industry importer, it is also the only significant ally in the region for the United States that could challenge China in Eurasia. Moreover, India is the most populous country after China and is among the top five economies in the world. Therefore, it is considered an important element rampart against Chinese expansionism. Therefore, any eventual CAATSA sanctions regarding the S-400 could seriously harm the national interests of the United States.
The geopolitical situation of States places the defense industry at the forefront of strategy. Thus, States have the right and the free will to engage in economic and defense cooperation based on their own interests. However, the behavior of individual states has sometimes resulted in crippling sanctions from the military and economic blocs of which the states are members. Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 served as a sparkle to this spectacle. Playing an active role in the production of the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet, Turkey was exposed to CAATSA sanctions after purchasing the S-400. Moreover, despite the payment of $1.25 billion for the F-35 aircraft, it was excluded from the F-35 program, and the $2.5 billion value of the S-400 activation is always a subject of debate.
India’s purchase of the S-400s was aimed at bolstering its air defense system against threats from neighboring Pakistan and China. On the other hand, Turkey has focused on acquiring the S-400 against the missile threat from Syria, Iraq and Iran. The main factor that paved the way for Turkey’s purchase was the reluctance of the United States and other NATO members to sell the Patriot and SAMP-T air defense systems to Turkey. Moreover, after Turkey’s two Syrian operations targeting the Afrin region in 2018 and the PKK/YPG beyond its eastern borders in 2019, in addition to the Spanish Patriot missiles in Adana, other NATO members had removed their air defense systems. Nevertheless, since a new generation of technology is used in the S-400s, NATO members, especially the United States, are concerned that Russia could gain access to NATO information if Turkey activates this system.
Sanctions against Turkey’s purchase and criticism from NATO members are justified by the advanced technological system used by both NATO and the S-400. NATO uses an advanced system called Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) to distinguish between friend and foe, and NATO aircraft cannot fly in the area protected by the S-400. It is argued that Turkey’s activation of the S-400 would lead to a series of technical disputes, and the S-400 computers could log data from joint NATO systems, making the intelligence available to Russia. Moreover, as a result of Russia’s deterrent policies in Eastern Europe, Russia remains NATO’s greatest adversary, further complicating Turkey’s activation of the S-400.
The S-400 adventure of Turkey and India has quite different strategic dimensions. While Turkey uses American F-16 fighter jets, India uses Russian-made SU-30s. Moreover, India is not a member of NATO and has always used Russian-made military equipment. On the other hand, the purchase of the S-400 by Turkey was the first large-scale defense agreement with Russia. Accordingly, the purchase of the S-400 by India does not create tactical contradictions for the United States or NATO. Furthermore, India’s geopolitical position in Eurasia is an intransigent factor for the United States. Possible CAATSA sanctions will lead to serious strains in bilateral defense and security relations between India and the United States. In this context, even if the CAATSA sanctions against India’s purchase of S-400 come into effect, a one-time sanction waiver can be used by Biden.
Above all, US-Turkish relations deteriorated after the 2016 military coup attempt, which worsened with US reluctance to sell the Patriot defense system to Turkey. Additionally, Washington has used harsh diplomatic language toward President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration on several issues. In particular, the Biden administration has made statements that have strained bilateral relations. As Turkey suffers the negative impact of US sanctions, there have recently been major developments in US-India relations. Former US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited each other and many new agreements were signed in defense and economy. India-US relations are still developing under the Biden administration under the Quad.