CAATSA designed not to take punitive action against friends, allies: US diplomat

Lalit K Jha
·4-min read

Washington, Dec 18 (PTI) A tough US law which authorises the administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia is not aimed at taking punitive actions against friends and allies, a senior American diplomat has said.

Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs R Clark Cooper's remarks on Thursday came after the US on Monday imposed sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA on its NATO ally, Turkey, for procuring Russia's advanced S-400 missile defence system.

The US law known as CAATSA is aimed at pushing back on Russian influence. It primarily deals with sanctions on Russian interests such as its oil and gas industry, defence and security sectors, and financial institutions, following Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

'The CAATSA sanctions are not designed to be punitive to a partner and ally that has got a sustainment issue or an operation or maintenance issue. We’re certainly not looking to disrupt that. Why? Well, we don’t want a partner’s sovereign defence capabilities to be degraded to put their readiness at risk,” Cooper told reporters during a conference call.

He was responding to a question on the possibility of sanctions on India under CAATSA because of the purchase of S-400s from Russia.

In October 2018, India signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems, notwithstanding warning from the Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanction.

In view of the evolving security scenario in its neighbourhood, India recently requested Russia to explore the possibility of advancing the supply of the interceptor-based missile systems which can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400 km.

Last year, India made the first tranche of payment of around USD 800 million to Russia for the S-400 missile systems.

Cooper said CAATSA is designed to address new significant acquisitions, procurements of Russian systems that would put at risk anything that would be interoperable with US systems or NATO systems.

“I would say that one thing, too, from an Indian perspective in particular, which is why I raised the legacy issue, CAATSA’s not, again, designed to take punitive action in that space. It’s to mitigate and prevent the significant addition of high-level, high-tech Russian systems,” he asserted.

Cooper said CAATSA sanctions are of a global nature. They are not limited to a particular state or region, and there is no timeline.

'There had been questions posed to me and to other colleagues as to we thought sanctions weren’t going to be issued to Turkey because nothing had been done in the last few months. That’s to just remind that there’s no clock (timeline) on the US government applying them, and there’s also no blanket waiver either. I know some states have thought or sought that either Congress or the Executive Branch would apply a waiver on sanctions, and I just would offer that is definitely not the case,” Cooper said.

On sanctions on Turkey, he said, “This was for their knowingly engaging in transactions of a significant nature with Russia. This is particularly with the Rosoboronexport, Russian main arms export entity. This is for the procurement of the S-400. It’s a surface-to-air missile system.' The Defence Industry Presidency or SSB is a Turkish government procurement entity that purchases defence equipment and has the responsibilities for the defence industrial development of Turkey. This was the target of the CAATSA sanctions, Cooper said.

“This was a very hard but necessary choice. And because Turkey has status not only as a bilateral ally with us but as a NATO member and an ally, the US undertook exhaustive efforts to engage diplomatically with the Turkish government at every level to provide an offramp from the S-400 acquisition,” he said.

NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 European and North American countries.

Cooper said the US made it very clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase and pursuit of the S-400 system would endanger the security of US military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia's defence sector.

“This is to get even more granular about this, this is also in the frame of Russia’s access to Turkish armed forces and defence industry. Nevertheless, Turkey did decide to move ahead with procurement and the testing of the S-400 system. And this decision resulted in both Turkey’s suspension from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme and now sanctions under CAATSA,” he said.

Turkey procured and tested the S-400 despite the availability of the alternative, Cooper said.

That alternative was the NATO interoperable systems that are available, particularly the US-made Patriot battery system. 'This was made available to meet Turkey’s defence requirements. Further, this step should send a clear message globally: CAATSA is designed to impose costs on Russia in response to its malicious cyber activities, its unacceptable behaviour in Ukraine, and other malign activities worldwide,” he said. PTI LKJ SCY AKJ SCY