Wed. May 11th, 2022

Washington wants New Delhi to denounce Moscow or face US sanctions for buying Russian weapons

Washington is looking at the possibility of sanctioning India over New Delhi’s purchases of Russian weapons, a senior State Department official has told Congress. The US is also pushing India to disavow Moscow over the current conflict in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden is “looking very closely” at whether to implement or waive the sanctions on countries that buy Russian military hardware, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs Donald Lu told the Senate.

India recently bought S-400 air defense systems from Moscow, running afoul of a 2017 US law called Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed in response to allegations of Russian meddling in US elections. 

“I can assure you that the administration will follow the CAATSA law and fully implement that law and will consult with Congress as we move forward with any of them,” Lu told lawmakers. “What unfortunately I am not able to say is to prejudge the decisions of the President or the [secretary of state] on the waiver issue or on the sanctions issue, or whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will bear on that decision,” he added.

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Turkey, a NATO ally, was sanctioned under CAATSA in December 2020 and banished from the F-35 fighter program, for buying S-400s from Russia.

Over the past several months, the US has been in a “pitched battle” with Indian officials, Lu said, with Biden himself as well as Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushing New Delhi “to take a clearer position, a position opposed to Russia’s action.”

India has already canceled orders of MiG-29 fighters, helicopters and anti-tank weapons from Russia, Lu said, but the US would like it to do more. Washington is “in the process of trying to understand whether defense technology that we are sharing with India today can be adequately safeguarded given India’s historical relationship with Russia and its defense sales.” 

New Delhi’s abstention at the UN General Assembly vote to condemn Russia on Wednesday and offer of humanitarian aid to Ukraine are “promising steps,” Lu said, adding that “action has begun to turn public opinion in India against a country that they perceived as a partner” after an Indian student was killed in Kharkov, reportedly by a Russian bombing.

Both Washington and Moscow have wooed India in recent years, with Russia signing a number of manufacturing contracts – including weapons and Covid-19 vaccines – while the US renamed its regional command “Indo-Pacific” and declared New Delhi a “major defense partner” in 2016.

India is also taking part in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a group that includes the US, Japan and Australia and is aimed at countering China. The White House said on Thursday that Biden held a video call with the group “to discuss the war against Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific.”