A top State Department official recently informed Congress that Washington is considering sanctions against India over its acquisition of Russian arms. The US is also pressuring India to distance itself from Moscow in the present Ukraine situation.
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According to Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Donald Lu, President Joe Biden is “looking very closely” into whether to impose or waive sanctions on nations that purchase Russian military weapons.
India reportedly purchased S-400 air defense systems from Russia, circumventing a 2017 US statute known as the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted in reply to claims of Russian election tampering.
“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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In December 2020, Turkey, a NATO ally, was penalized by CAATSA and removed from the F-35 fighter program for purchasing S-400s from Russia.
According to Lu, the US seems to be in a “pitched battle” with Indian authorities over several months, with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressuring New Delhi “to take a clearer position, a position opposed to Russia’s action.”
According to Lu, India has already withdrawn from contracts with Russia for MiG-29 fighters, helicopters, and anti-tank weapons, but the US really want it to do even more.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.”
After an Indian student was killed in Kharkov, supposedly by a Russian bomb blast, New Delhi’s inaction at the UN General Assembly ballot to denounce Russia on Wednesday and offer of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine are “promising steps,” Lu said, going to add that “action has begun to turn public opinion in India against a country that they perceived as a partner.”
In recent times, both the US and Russia have courted India, with Russia securing a variety of industrial contracts – such as for weaponry and Covid-19 vaccinations – and the US rebranding its regional command “Indo-Pacific” and declaring New Delhi a “major defense partner” in 2016.
India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an organization comprised of the United States, Japan, and Australia that aims to oppose China. On Thursday, Biden arranged a video conversation with the group “to discuss the war against Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House.