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Why US’ sanctions “bill from hell” on Russia should worry India

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 3, 2018

A fortnight after the Helsinki summit on July 16, US-Russia relations are set to take a turn for the worse. In an unprecedented move, White House fielded a joint media briefing by America’s top national security team on Thursday to highlight that Russia is continuing to make pervasive attempts to interfere in the upcoming mid-term elections in the US in November.

One of the top security czars who gave the briefing, National Intelligence Agency director Dan Coats said starkly, “We acknowledge the threat, it is real, it is continuing, and we’re doing everything we can to have a legitimate election. It is pervasive, it is ongoing, with the intent to … drive a wedge and undermine our democratic values.” Importantly, Coats alleged that the Kremlin was involved in the meddling effort which reached into the Kremlin itself.

He said, “Russia has used numerous ways in which they want to influence, through media, social media, through bots, through actors that they hire, through proxies – all of the above, and potentially more. We also know the Russians tried to hack into and steal information from candidates and government officials alike.” (Transcript)

The briefing served three purposes: one, to reject the denials of meddling that Russian President Vladimir Putin maade to President Trump at Helsinki; two, to neutralize the public criticism in the US that Trump has not been unequivocal on the issue; and, three, to give warning to Moscow.

The briefing coincided with a ‘bipartisan’ legislation that was introduced into the US Congress on Thursday to impose stiff new sanctions on Russia and combat cyber crime. The bill includes restrictions on new Russian sovereign debt transactions, energy and oil projects and Russian uranium imports, and new sanctions on Russian political figures and oligarchs. Interestingly, the proposed legislation underscores strong support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and expressly forbids the Administration from taking the US out of the alliance without two-thirds of the US Senate voting in favor of any such effort.

The senators who tabled the legislation said in a statement that the proposed new sanctions would target “political figures, oligarchs, and family members and other persons that facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Vladimir Putin.” According to some reports, the bill would also require a report to be assembled on the personal net worth and assets of Putin. Quite obviously, Putin himself is in the crosshairs.

Putin’s spirited defence of Trump at their joint press conference in Helsinki on the Russia collusion inquiry has provoked this furious backlash from America’s political class. In such a backdrop, another summit between Trump and Putin in a near future seems highly improbable. A visit by Putin to the White House in the autumn is simply out of the question. The US-Russia ties will remain very tense, too.

On the other hand, in a deceptive show of flexibility that will be keenly noted in New Delhi, US Congress has approved a legislation empowering the president to waive penalties against countries that buy weapons from Russia – provided, of course, Washington is convinced that such countries are seeking closer ties with the US. The US Defence Secretary James Mattis had pleaded with the US Congress for such Russia-sanction-waiver authority that would help countries such as India, which had traditional defence relations with Russia but are now trying to “pull away from the Russian orbit,” (as he put it.)

Evidently, the legislation on waivers is a self-serving move, enabling US arms manufacturers to continue to expand business opportunities in the Indian market. Under the new legislation, the president must nonetheless certify that India is both reducing arms imports from Russia and is expanding defense cooperation with the US, thereby making itself eligible for the waiver from sanctions. In effect, it becomes a tool for Washington to insert itself into the India-Russia defence cooperation as an interested party and to incrementally leverage Indian decisions with a view to atrophy the longstanding cooperation.

Clearly, the US interference in the India-Russia relationship is poised to intensify in the period ahead. If the proposed new sanctions “bill from hell” (tabled on Thursday) gets passed by the US Congress, which is to be expected, energy cooperation between India and Russia will also come under the American scanner. There is a strong business dimension to these US moves insofar as arms exports and energy cooperation also happen to be two thrust areas of export to India. Simply put, Washington hopes to roll back India’s defence and energy cooperation with Russia and seize the resultant business opportunities to boost its own exports to the Indian market.

In strategic terms, the US intention is to undermine the so-called “special privileged strategic partnership” between Russia and India, which would in turn erode the latter’s strategic autonomy and incrementally draw India into the American orbit as an ally.

August 3, 2018 - Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , ,

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