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India cancelled orders of Russian jets, weapons: US official at Senate hearing

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu said the US Secretary of State had been “in the frontline” of a “pitched battle” to get India on the same page as the US on the Ukraine issue.

S-400Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu appeared to imply that the US would not need to invoke sanctions against “an important security partner” for the purchase of the Russian S 400 air defence system. (File photo)

Underlining that it would be difficult for any country to continue buying military hardware from Russia after US sanctions in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday that in the “last few” weeks, “what we’ve seen from India…is the cancellation of MiG-29 orders, Russian helicopter orders and anti-tank weapon orders.”

When contacted in New Delhi, a Defence Ministry spokesman declined to comment on Lu’s remarks. Lu, who called India a “really important security partner,” was speaking at the Senate hearing hours after the vote in the UN General Assembly on “Russian aggression”, from which India, along with 34 other countries including China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, abstained.

Asked specifically if, in view of India’s abstentions, the Biden Administration was considering invoking CAATSA sanctions on Delhi for purchasing the S-400 air defence system from Russia, Lu said he was not able to “prejudge” decisions of the President or the Secretary on this issue, or whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will bear on that decision.

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CAATSA or Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act is a 2017 US law targeting Iran, North Korea and Russia and can be invoked against any country or entity that carries out business transactions with them.

In 2020, the US sanctioned Turkey for purchasing the S-400. Delhi signed a $5.3-billion deal for the S-400 with Moscow in 2018, and Russia began deliveries of the system to India in November 2021.

Delhi was confident that the Biden Administration would make an exception for the S-400 deal in view of the expanding strategic partnership with India, including in the Quadrilateral grouping.

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However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden Administration’s new sanctions to punish Moscow, and India’s neutral positioning in the conflict have put the S-400 deal back under the spotlight.

“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. 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,” Lu said.

Lu said that the Biden administration is yet to decide on applying sanctions on India under CAATSA.

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“India is a really important security partner of ours now. And that we value moving forward that partnership and I hope that part of what happens with the extreme criticism that Russia has faced is that India will find it’s now time to further distances,” Lu said.

India’s record of abstention and “non-alignment” at the United Nations on the Ukraine issue dominated the hearing, with committee members questioning Lu about how this squared with the US-India partnership and India’s own credentials as the world’s largest democracy.

Lu said there was a “pitched battle” on the issue with India to “urge it to take a clear position”, and that it had led to an “evolution” of the Indian position.

“Secretary (Tony) Blinken has been on the frontlines of that battle. The President, other senior officials in the State Department have been relentlessly conducting very serious high-level dialogue with their Indian counterparts over Ukraine over the over the course of months now,” Lu said, noting India’s call to all states to abide by the UN Charter, respect sovereignty and the territorial integrity of other states, and to send humantarian supplies to Ukraine as indications of “small steps”.

The death of the Indian student in the bombardment of Kharkiv had also begun to turn public opinion in India, against Russia, he said.
“We have spared no effort to try to convince India both to vote in UN sessions but also to show support for Ukraine at this critical moment. Those efforts were led by Secretary Blinken. He is multiple, multiple times been on the phone with Minister Jaishanker,” the official said. (with Krishn Kaushik, New Delhi).

First published on: 03-03-2022 at 03:59:26 pm
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