US’ Hypocrisy On S-400 Sanc­tions

De­spite Amer­i­can sanc­tions on the Rus­sian de­fense com­pany Al­maz-Antey, Moscow is of­fer­ing or has sold the S-400 to a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing NATO mem­ber Turkey

The Day After - - CONTENT - By dr ThEodorE karaSik

Rus­sia’s abil­ity to sell its S-400 air de­fense sys­tem to sev­eral dif­fer­ent coun­tries in dif­fer­ent the­aters il­lus­trates the geopol­i­tics of this par­tic­u­lar sys­tem. For buy­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers, it is chang­ing the way mis­sile sys­tems are sold by Rus­sia and mea­sures how the US sees th­ese sales from a geopo­lit­i­cal point of view.

De­spite US sanc­tions on the Rus­sian de­fense com­pany Al­maz-Antey, Moscow is of­fer­ing or has sold the S-400 to a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing NATO mem­ber Turkey. China ac­quired the first S-400 sys­tem, in­clud­ing the com­mand post, radar sta­tions and launch­ing sta­tions, which re­sulted in the US State De­part­ment last month im­pos­ing sanc­tions on China’s Equip­ment De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment, the mil­i­tary branch re­spon­si­ble for weapons and equip­ment, and its direc­tor, Li Shangfu, for en­gag­ing in “sig­nif­i­cant trans­ac­tions” with Rosoboronex­port, Rus­sia’s main arms ex­porter.

The move, made pos­si­ble by last year’s US con­gres­sional pas­sage of the Coun­ter­ing Amer­ica’s Ad­ver­saries Through Sanc­tions Act (CAATSA), seeks to pe­nal­ize coun­tries who pur­chase weapons from Rus­sia, North Korea and Iran. No­tably, China is be­ing sanc­tioned for tak­ing de­liv­ery of th­ese sys­tems and not for the con­clu­sion of the sales con­tracts with Rus­sia. Here, geopol­i­tics by the Don­ald Trump White House is push­ing Rus­sia and China closer to­gether.

The US is also watch­ing closely for other S-400 sales to coun­tries such as Al­ge­ria, Be­larus, Iran and Viet­nam, thus re­duc­ing the Amer­i­can sphere of in­flu­ence and boost­ing Rus­sia’s abil­ity to arm, equip and train other coun­tries’ air de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­gard­less of the the­ater. The key is­sue here is what the US will do given the de­fense re­quire­ments of other coun­tries who want to con­tinue to do de­fense busi­ness with Moscow. Both Turkey and, in par­tic­u­lar, In­dia now stand out.

Nat­u­rally, any sale of the S-400 to Turkey — which is a done deal — has made waves with Amer­i­can of­fi­cials dis­cussing ways in which to con­vince Ankara to think oth­er­wise. Th­ese mea­sures in­clude pres­sure tac­tics such as the threat of sanc­tions. Ques­tions about the in­ter­op­er­abil­ity of the sys­tem are ob­vi­ous and any such sale of the mis­sile sys­tem to ei­ther one of th­ese coun­tries means it will be stand­alone in ei­ther coun­try’s air de­fense ar­chi­tec­ture.

The sale of five S-400 mis­sile sys­tems to In­dia raised eye­brows, how­ever, be­cause the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and ul­ti­mately the US Congress gave New Delhi a pass on pe­nal­iz­ing the coun­try for buy­ing the sys­tem from Rus­sia. On July 24, the US

Se­nate and House passed a bill that al­lows In­dia to buy the Rus­sian weapon sys­tem with­out the threat of Amer­i­can sanc­tions. CAATSA is ap­par­ently not set in stone and sales may be judged on a case-by-case ba­sis.

Mod­i­fi­ca­tions to CAATSA’s Sec­tion 231 en­ables the US pres­i­dent to waive sales like the S-400 to pro­tect US al­liances, like the one it has with In­dia. Im­por­tantly, In­dian De­fense Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man made clear that CAATSA was a US law and not a UN law. Ne­go­ti­a­tions for the S-400 mis­siles have been on­go­ing for sev­eral years and pre­dates Amer­ica’s prob­lem with Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, from New Delhi’s point of view.

Im­por­tantly, the US is In­dia’s largest arms sup­plier af­ter Rus­sia. US firms have sold In­dia more than $10 bil­lion-worth of mil­i­tary hard­ware, mainly air­craft, over the last decade. The In­dian Air Force op­er­ates front­line US air­craft such as the C-17 Globe­mas­ter, the C-130J Su­per Her­cules and will soon re­ceive Apache he­li­copter gun­ships and Chi­nook trans­port he­li­copters. But US pol­i­cy­mak­ers worry that their air­craft’s radar sig­na­tures and trans­mis­sion fre­quen­cies be­ing ex­posed to the S-400 mis­sile sys­tem will al­low Rus­sia to counter them in other po­ten­tial con­flict zones.

To be sure, In­dia sees the S-400 as part of its strat­egy to main­tain a cred­i­ble de­ter­rence along two fronts with China and Pakistan, who both have im­pres­sive mil­i­tary cre­den­tials. This fact means the sys­tem can see deep in­side Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and pick up air­craft as soon as they are air­borne. De­ployed along the eastern bor­der with China, the mis­sile sys­tem can eas­ily mon­i­tor fighter jets tak­ing off from air­fields along the Ti­betan high­lands. In­dia’s air de­fense ar­chi­tec­ture al­lows for the S-400 to be­come in­te­grated into the top layer.

In­dia also sees the S-400 as an an­swer to its shrink­ing fighter strength. It is re­tir­ing the Rus­sian MiG-21, MiG-27 and MiG-29 air­craft and the last batch of Rus­sian-In­dian Su-30 MKI fight­ers is be­ing pro­duced by Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited’s Nashik fac­tory. In­dia is en­ter­tain­ing a num­ber of fu­ture fighter pro­cure­ment pack­ages, es­pe­cially from France, which are to be de­liv­ered in 2021. From an In­dian de­fense doc­trine point of view, the S-400 will free up multi-role fight­ers to do air-to-ground mis­sions in­stead of an air su­pe­ri­or­ity role, all with Amer­ica’s per­mis­sion.

Over­all, the US is ap­ply­ing dif­fer­ent stan­dards to im­ple­ment­ing sanc­tions when Rus­sian arms sales are in­volved. Moscow rec­og­nizes this fact and Rosoboronex­port’s strat­egy is likely to push more sales of the S-400 and other equip­ment in or­der to test Amer­i­can re­solve to slap sanc­tions on as many coun­tries as pos­si­ble. If the geopo­lit­i­cal game is not ap­pre­ci­ated by all par­ties, this is where the US sanc­tions pol­icy can back­fire.

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