US says it is still considering India sanctions after it abstained in UN vote on Ukraine

Senior US diplomat says Biden administration hopes ‘India will find it’s now time to further distance itself’ from Russia

Stuti Mishra
Thursday 03 March 2022 16:57
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<p>File image: India has been a long-term partner for the US in South Asia, however, the position of the two countries on the Ukraine crisis remains at odds </p>

File image: India has been a long-term partner for the US in South Asia, however, the position of the two countries on the Ukraine crisis remains at odds

The US has once again hinted at sanctioning India over the purchase of a missile defence system from Russia as the South Asian nation continues to balance its relations between the west and Moscow.

Speaking to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, just after India had abstained from a vote on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, senior US diplomat Donald Lu said the Biden administration was still considering sanctions against India.

Nonetheless, Mr Lu said the US government hopes India will begin to distance itself from Moscow.

“What I can say is that India is a really important security partner of ours now and that we value moving forward that partnership,” said Mr Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, adding that the decision on sanctions was still being considered and he did not want to prejudge it.

“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,” Mr Lu said.

He did not specify whether India’s move to abstain from voting at the UN would have any bearing on the decision of imposing sanctions or a waiver amidst the current turmoil.

“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,” Mr Lu further said. “Those efforts were led by Secretary Blinken.”

The conversation over whether the US will sanction India after it purchased an S-400 Triumph missile defence system from Russia has been going on for many months.

The US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) mandates sanctions against those buying arms from Russia, unless certain exceptions apply or the president chooses to waive them. It has already been used to sanction Turkey for a purchase from Russia.

Before the Ukraine conflict, it had been seen as likely the US would waive sanctions over India’s S-400 purchase, with Delhi arguing the equipment was a necessary deterrent against China.

Mr Lu’s statement is being seen as a tactical approach from the US to get India, a long-term ally, onboard in condemning the Russian attack against Ukraine and to isolate Moscow further.

“It could be highly damaging for the US to impose sanctions on India,” says Harsh V Pant, director of research at the Observer Research Foundation – a think tank – and a professor of international relations at King’s College London.

“Americans are well aware of India’s dependency on Russia, there is no ambiguity in that regard,” Mr Pant says, adding that the latest statements are a diplomatic effort to bring India on board with their cause while underscoring the American unhappiness at what India is doing.

“I think what is happening at the moment in regards to Ukraine is certainly something that the US would want India to be more vocal about. Therefore, it seems more of a diplomatic pressure tactic to say publicly, and make it difficult for India to wriggle its way out of this situation.”

Harsh V Pant, director of research at the Observer Research Foundation

While India has for decades been largely dependent on Russia for defence equipment, the way China’s aggression at its doorstep has intensified in recent years means a strong relationship between India and the US has become increasingly strategic for both sides.

“Some of these issues will come and go, like the issue of Russia or Iran, where the countries have differences,” he says. “The relationship depends on Indo-Pacific and how to manage China. I don’t think any policymaker in the US would consider antagonising India or giving up on India for this conflict.”

“They understand it has compulsions like the US does in several sectors. It’s not an alliance partner.”

Even if India resists the urgings of the west to get on board with criticising Russia over Ukraine and at the same time avoids sanctions over the S-400 deal, it might still find it relations with Russia are strained going forwards.

“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,” Mr Lu said. “It is going to be very hard for any country in the globe to buy major weapon systems from Russia because of the sweeping sanctions now placed on Russian banks.”

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