Donald Lu, the new Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia in the US, testified before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday (2 March), on various issues related to the India-US relationship.
Among other things, he spoke on India's dependence on Russia in the defence sector and on the possibility of US sanctions against India under 'Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act' for the purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.
Speaking on the issue, Lu said US President Joe Biden will decide whether to apply sanctions on India or grant it a waiver.
Lu, who served as the Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi between 2010 and 2013, said that the Biden administration will "follow the CAATSA law and fully implement that law and will consult with [US] Congress".
Lu told the committee that he did not want to prejudge the decisions of President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Tony Blinken.
"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 on the question of sanctions against India.
"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 added.
In November last year, three Republican senators had introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act FY2022 which, if passed, would make it harder for the US President to impose sanctions on members of the QUAD for buying Russian weapons. As India is the only member of the QUAD that imports defence equipment from Russia, the amendment is seen as an attempt to help India's case.
However, the mood in the US following the Russian invasion of Ukraine will only make it tougher for the US President to grant India a waiver.
Lu also pointed out that India has been reducing its dependence on Russian weapons imports in recent years.
"What we've seen from India in just the last few weeks, is the cancellation of MiG 29 orders, Russian helicopter orders and anti-tank weapon orders," he said, adding, "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 distance itself."
While CAATSA has made buying high-end Russian defence equipment difficult for countries, sanctions against Russian banks will also make purchasing ammunition and spare parts from the country difficult.
“I would think if I was a consumer right now of Russian technology, I would want to make sure that I have diversity because we will see a problem for Russia’s customers in securing reliable supplies,” he said.
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