The US made an exception for an ally to buy Russian arms — and it may get a dangerous new system before the end of the year

  • Amid tensions with Russia, the US has been trying to get countries to stop buying weapons from Moscow.
  • But some countries still depend on Russian arms, including India, one of the US’s biggest partners.
  • The US made an exemption to Russia sanctions for India and others, and New Delhi may get its latest purchase from Russia before the end of this year.

The US has been pushing its partners not to buy Russian weapons, threatening them with sanctions for doing business with Moscow.

But Washington has carved out an exception to those sanctions in order to keep those countries in the fold, and now one of the biggest ones may get its hands on Russia’s advanced air-defence system before the end of the year.

India, which has a decades-long defence relationship with Russia, has been working on a deal for the S-400 for several years.

In early July, India’s Defence Acquisitions Council reportedly signed off on the acquisition. Two weeks after that, India’s defence minister said the deal to acquire the S-400 was at an “almost conclusive stage” and that the US secretaries of defence and state “have taken a position understanding of India’s position.”

S-400 SyriaRussian Defence MinistryRussian S-400 batteries deployed to Syria.

Now a senior Russia official says India could have its new S-400 by the end of 2018.

Dmitry Shugayev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said during an interview with state-owned news channel Rossiya 24 on Wednesday that the main components of the S-400 contract had been determined and that a contract was expected to be signed in the next three months.

“We are fully ready to sign this contract. Its foundation was laid, and almost all aspects were coordinated. We plan to sign this contract before the end of this year,” Shugayev said,according to Russian news agency Tass.

India currently fields a variety of Russian-made weapons systems, including MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter jets and an overhauled Kiev-class carrier-cruiser.

India – for whom air defence is an important issue as their rivalry grows with China, which already has the S-400 – also has Russia’s S-300 air-defence system, upon which the S-400 improves by adding a better radar system and software as well as a four new types of missiles, one of which can reach a range of 250 miles and an altitude of 607,000 feet. (Though it’s not clear if that missile can be deployed effectively.)

But the US has sought to boost its relationship with India, particularly military ties, selling Delhi $US15 billion worth of arms since 2008.

While the purchase of the S-400 likely stems more from practical concerns and from India’s familiarity with Russian weapons, the deal ran afoul of US officials who were trying to isolate Russia in the wake of the Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said in May that the US was disappointed in Delhi’s decision to buy the S-400, which “threatens our ability to work interoperability in the future.”

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis pushed for an exemption for countries like India that still buy Russian weapons, arguing those countries were trying to reduce that reliance but needed to keep supply lines open to maintain what they already had.

The latest annual defence bill – signed by President Donald Trump on August 13 – included terms for countries to receive such an exemption, including a requirement that the buyer show it was not doing anything to undermine US operations or technology and that it was trying to reduce dependence on Russia or expand cooperation with the US.

India is not the only US partner to give Washington headaches over the S-400. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both considering purchases, and Turkey, whose ties with the US and NATO have been strained, will reportedly get the advanced missile system in 2019.

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