In 2017, a federal law called CAATSA or Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act was passed “nearly unanimously” (98 to 2) by the US Congress, fearing President Donald Trump, a known admirer of Vladimir Putin, wouldn’t act decisively against Russia for alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election. True enough, Trump grudgingly signed it into law in a ceremony in the White House, but hastened to add it was “seriously flawed.”
With this in hand, the US last month imposed sanctions on China for going against this sweeping law by acquiring modern fighter jets and missile systems from Russia.
Starting 2017, China has received from Russia, which is reportedly the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US, 10 Sukhoi Su35 combat jets and a state-of-the-art S400 Growler missile defense system, with more to come.
Such sanctions were for the Equipment Development Department, the military unit that handled the purchase and some senior officials, including its head Li Shangfu.
In an irate rejoinder, China fired off an ultimatum for Washington to withdraw the sanctions or “bear the consequences.” While vague, the message was foreboding, a portent of dire things.
But actually, China was merely a collateral damage in this brouhaha as the real target of CAATSA’s choking restrictions is the Russian government for its encroachment in Crimea, participation in the Ukrainian and Syrian conflicts and possible interference in the US electoral process.
Since 2014, the US has slapped a number of sanctions such as asset freezes, travel bans, trade restrictions against some 700 prominent Russian businessmen, individuals and corporations to punish the Putin government for fomenting trouble beyond its borders and on the Internet.
The IMF estimates this curtailment slowed down somewhat Russia’s economic growth as it discouraged entry of foreign investments and denied its access to modern technology.
Ironically, some of the Russian arms export agency Rosoboronexport’s biggest customers like Egypt, Morocco, UAE, Qatar and Turkey are all US allies (and recipients of its foreign aid) which would likewise make them liable with the crippling sanctions specified in CAATSA. And that would cause one huge mess down the line.
Come to think of it, CAATSA poses bleak implications for the Philippines in light of President Duterte’s desire to promote closer ties with countries that do not impose conditions on weapons sales – such as China and Russia.
In 2016, the President went ballistic after US legislators thumbed down the sale of 26, 000 assault rifles to the AFP and PNP over human rights issues in connection with the government’s relentless campaign against illegal drugs which has claimed the lives of thousands and vowed to turn to other nations that would welcome his country’s business.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana some weeks ago revealed to reporters his meeting in Washington with some US officials who “politely” reminded him of the adverse repercussions in violating the CAATSA, in light of the fact Manila still has not rescinded its offer to procure Russian arms.
Lorenzana said it was stressed by his hosts that the Philippines would be made to pay a heavy price if the arms deal with Russia is consummated as Rosoboronexport is on the sanctions blacklist, but no specific penalty was mentioned.
It was also suggested that the country rethink its desire to engage in any future dealings with the Russian military to avoid further blurring existing bilateral ties with the US, which has been in existence since 1899 and which has been for countless decades the Philippines’ main source of military hardware and materiel.
Malacañang, however, appears to be unfazed by the CAATSA sanctions in the planned purchase of arms from Russia, with then presidential spokesman Harry Roque branding the move as a “violation of Philippine sovereignty.”
Roque, an international law professor, said this is an excellent example of “transnational legislation” on the part of Washington.
Camp Aguinaldo had reportedly submitted a purchase request in October 2017 for 750 units of rocket-propelled grenades worth about $7.5 million from Rosoboronexport, but it is still awaiting the go-signal from Mr. Duterte.
The Philippines was last year the recipient of 5,000 automatic AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, one million rounds of ammunition, 5,000 steel helmets and 20 trucks as an offshoot of Duterte’s state visit to Moscow. However such gifts aren’t covered by the CAATSA.