Could India face US sanctions over its ties to Russia?

India’s tightrope between Russia and the US is getting tighter. The US may be considering imposing sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for the latter’s defence deals with Russia. This is likely a consequence of India’s multiple abstentions at various United Nations forums on votes to criticise Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine.

India’s $5.3-billion deal to buy the S-400 Triumf missile defence system from Russia is now the subject of this consideration. While the deal was signed in 2018, deliveries to India began in late 2021. Since then, the US has held off sanctioning India because of its own strategic partnerships with the country.

That could, however, change now.

Will the US sanction India?

US president Joe Biden will likely take a call on whether to follow CAATSA to the full extent or allow exemptions for countries like India. Under this law, the US is required to levy sanctions on any country that has dealings with Iran, Russia, or Korea.

India’s membership in the Quad, the alliance it has with the US, Australia, and Japan, could lead the US to take a less harsh stance. Leaders of the four countries met yesterday (March 3) at a virtual summit, focusing on the humanitarian assistance needed in Ukraine instead of Russia’s military actions.

“India is a really important security partner of ours now,” assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs Donald Lu told the US senate foreign relations committee on March 2. “And that we value moving forward that partnership and I hope that part of what happens with the extreme criticism that Russia has faced is that India will find it’s now time to further distances,” he said.

India’s perceived neutrality towards — or what some see as tacit support of — Russia has not been well-accepted by its partners like the US. According to Lu, US secretary of state Antony Blinken has “spared no effort” to convince India both to vote at the UN and show visible support for Ukraine.

But not only is India a key partner for the US in counterbalancing China’s influence in the region, Lu added that the administration views India’s cancellation of MiG-29 orders from Russia as a positive sign.

But if military operations do not de-escalate, it might pull India deeper into the quagmire.

What will sanctions on India look like?

While there is no confirmation yet on the fact or extent of economic costs on India, the last round of sanctions could hold some clues.

The US sanctioned India last in 1998 under the Glenn Amendment when the “deeply disappointed” Bill Clinton administration took exception to the country’s underground nuclear tests in Pokhran.

The US cut off all aid, except humanitarian, to India. This amounted to a loss of an estimated $142 million for India. The US also banned the export of defence technologies, besides all American credit and credit guarantees, to India. It was also required to oppose all international lending to India via the World Bank.

Most of the sanctions were lifted between 1999 and 2001, and the US eventually recognised India as a legitimate civilian nuclear power and, by 2008, a de facto military nuclear power.

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