External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Monday defended India's decision to purchase S-400 missile defence systems from Russia. India is facing threat of sanctions from the United States as the latter is concerned over the deal. However, Jaishankar defended the deal saying 'the sourcing of military equipment is very much a sovereign right'.
"The sourcing of military equipment is very much a sovereign right and we would not like any state to tell us what to buy or not buy from Russia — no more than we’d like another state to tell us to buy or not buy from America," Jaishankar was quoted as saying in the Washington Times ahead of a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"That freedom of choice is ours and we think it’s in everybody’s interest to recognise that," he added.
"We buy American, we buy Russian, we buy French, we buy Israeli," Jaishankar said. "That freedom of choice is ours and we think it’s in everybody’s interest to recognize that."
India agreed to buy five S-400 systems for 5.2 billion dollars last year. Russia has said that delivery is on track with the first system expected to come online in 2020.
Under a 2017 law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the United States imposes sanctions against countries over "major" arms purchases from Russia due to Moscow’s military involvement in Ukraine and Syria and alleged meddling in US elections.
But CAATSA allows a president to waive the sanctions for US allies, as long as he can prove they have an expanding military relationship and are decreasing their overall weapons imports from Russia. It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will proceed.
Jaishankar on Monday downplayed the notion that CAATSA could be used against New Delhi. Jaishankar also emphasized India’s growing military ties with the United States.
"We had until 15 years ago, virtually no defense relationship," he said. But since then India has bought an expanding range of US-made systems, including C-17 and C-130 aircraft, Chinook and Apache helicopters, and American artillery and Navy ships.