Biden Administration Floats Sanctions Against India Over It’s Military Partnership With Russia

The Biden administration is now floating the idea of imposing sanctions on India over its strategic military partnership with Russia. This is part of the US and its allies’ campaign to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. 

Donald Lu, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, informed elected officials on March 3, 2022 during a hearing that the administration is considering several punitive actions against India for its close military relationship with Russia

Since the Cold War, India has maintained a solid military relationship with Russia (starting with its Soviet predecessor). According to a 2021 congressional report, Russia has been the source of approximately two-thirds (62%) of all Indian arms imports. Similarly, India has been the top Russian arms importer and made up roughly one-third (32%) of all Russia arms exports per figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“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 stated.  

The Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is the legislation being used to potentially punish India.  CAATSA was passed in 2017 after Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election. A provision of the bill empowers the U.S. government to sanction transactions with Russian defense or intelligence sectors.

The law features a waiver authority for the president. This was used in the case of Turkey back in 2020. Turkey is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member, so the Trump administration took its time to sanction it for its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. It was not until December 2020 that the Trump administration sanctioned Turkey for its purchase of Russian weapons. 

Back in 2016, The Hill noted that India was designated as a “Major Defense Partner” with the U.S. This is a classification that functions to increase defense trade and technology transfers between the U.S. and other partners. According to The Hill, “defense contracts between the U.S. and India are said to have amounted to $20 billion since 2008.” 

India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with the U.S., Japan and Australia, an informal alliance that is concentrated on balancing the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Interestingly, India was one of 34 nations that abstained at the United Nations for a General Assembly vote criticizing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

From a realist standpoint, such a move to sanction India would make it less enthusiastic about balancing against China. Moreover, it could potentially make it seek somewhat of a rapprochement with China and strengthen its ties with Russia, thereby creating a new Eurasian coalition to potentially balance against the U.S.

This in no way benefits American interests. The U.S. should reassess its Russia policy and make sure that it stays on good terms with India. There is no need to create a massive anti-American balancing coalition.

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