Important step for India’s purchase of Russian weaponry, says ex-diplomat on US sanction waiver

The US House of Representatives on Thursday approved an amendment that allows a waiver for India against the punitive CAATSA sanctions. The move is an important step for New Delhi’s purchase of Russian weaponry, India’s former ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna said on the development.

In an exclusive interview with India Today TV, Navtej Sarna said, “It’s an important step on the way to an ultimate waiver for India’s purchase of Russian weaponry.”

However, the former diplomat added that it was not the final waiver.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a legislative amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) by voice vote. The amendment paves the way for an India-specific waiver against the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions — a tough law that authorises the US government to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia.

CAATSA became a sticking point in the India-US ties after New Delhi inked a deal to secure the S-400 missile defence system from Russia. The US had been mulling whether to apply or waive CAATSA sanctions on India over the Russian deal, especially after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine this year.


Explaining the CAATSA, Navtej Sarna said the law was essentially brought in to impose sanctions on any country which has important strategic or defence engagement with Russia, Iran, North Korea. “It was essentially meant to stop that sort of engagement,” he said.

Sarna said that in 2018, a waiver provision was added to the CAATSA but that was not an India specific waiver.

“It essentially was pushed for India but it was not an India-specific waiver. It gave the (US) administration the option to give a waiver in case they felt that a relationship was working strategically for the United States. That the country which was being targeted with sanctions was trying to move away from Russian weaponry and a couple of other caveats,” Sarna said.

Sarna said that the new amendment, brought in by Indian-origin Congressman Ro Khanna, adds on to that process and makes an India-specific case which will ultimately make it easier for the US administration to give a waiver against CAATSA.

“I think it’s important because it underlines the importance of India-US strategic partnership. It is so important that we can’t harm our own interests just to spite Russia,” Sarna said.

“The second aspect that is highlighted is that the United States and India are making a common cause against China. If you see Congressman Ro Khanna’s amendment, it specifically mentions that in the Indo-Pacific, the India-US partnership is of great strategic importance,” Sarna added.


Sarna said that the amendment highlights the US government’s acknowledgement that India is facing “Chinese aggression on its borders and it’s important for the United States to support India’s defence”.

“It also underlines that India and the US are cooperating in critical and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies. It shows that you can’t be cooperating with the country to that extent in these crucial days when the Chinese are clearly becoming very aggressive both towards India and to the rest of the world. And given the Russia-China partnership, it’s in the United States’ interest to grant India this waiver,” Sarna said.


Sarna said that the passing of the amendment to the NDAA shouldn’t be seen as a discreet event. He said that the defence ties between India and the US have increased manifold in the last 10-12 years and New Delhi has become one of the major defence partners of Washington.

The former ambassador also said in the 2018 amendment to the CAATSA, it was mentioned that one of the determinants for a waiver would be to see if that a country is making efforts to move away from its defence engagement with Russia. India has decreased its weaponry dependence on Russia over the years which is in tune with the requirements of the waiver probation under CAATSA, Sarna said.

“Naturally this is a requirement which the United States wants. It would be curious if they were to give a waiver if the other country was going on expanding its relationship with Russia. So India, for its own reasons, is diversifying from somewhere like 70 per cent to get to 58-60 per cent dependence on Russia and also increasing its purchases of US weaponry. So I think this is in tune with the requirements of the waiver probation,” Sarna said.

— ENDS —

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