Biden weighing sanctions on India over Russian military stockpiles

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The Biden administration is weighing whether to impose sanctions against India over its stockpile of and reliance on Russian military equipment as part of the wide-ranging consequences the West is seeking to impose on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs, on Thursday told lawmakers in a hearing that the administration is weighing how threatening India's historically close military relationship with Russia is to U.S. security.

"It's a question we're looking at very closely, as the administration is looking at the broader question over whether to apply sanctions under CAATSA or to waive those sanctions," Lu said.

The Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, passed in 2017 in the wake of the Kremlin's interference in U.S. elections, includes the authority to sanction transactions with Russian defense or intelligence sectors.

The law includes waiver authority for the president that was used for Turkey, an ally in NATO, until December 2020 when the Trump administration imposed sanctions under the law for Ankara's purchase of the Russian S400 missile defense system.

In 2016, India was named a "Major Defense Partner" with the U.S., a unique designation that serves to elevate defense trade and technology. Defense contracts between the U.S. and India are said to have amounted to $20 billion since 2008.

India is also a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the U.S., Japan and Australia, a grouping that focuses on countering China's ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.

President Biden held a video call with Quad leaders on Thursday, according to the White House, "to discuss the war against Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific."

Lu told lawmakers that the administration 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."

"It is critical that with any partner, that the United States is able to assure itself that any defense technology we share is sufficiently protected," he said.

Lu said the administration has been engaged in a "pitched battle" with Indian officials over the past couple of months leading up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior officials in the State Department urged New Delhi to "to take a clearer position, a position opposed to Russia's action."

The secretary said India's abstention at the United Nations and its commitment to provide Ukraine with humanitarian assistance are promising steps in a shift in its public position and that he expects an even greater shift in the aftermath of outrage at the death of an Indian student killed in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, by Russian bombing in recent days.

"I have had several conversations with Indian officials in the last 24 hours," Lu said. "What we can see, already, very quickly is that action has begun to turn public opinion in India against a country that they perceived as a partner, undeniably, that partner has killed a young person who was an innocent victim in Ukraine."