It is not in India's "best interest" to continue investing in Russian military equipment, United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has told lawmakers, underscoring the Biden administration's desire that New Delhi scales down its dependence on Russian military equipment.
"We continue to work with them (India) to ensure that they understand that it's not in their -- we believe that -- it's not in their best interest to continue to invest in Russian equipment,” Austin told the members of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday during a Congressional hearing on the annual defence budget.
“And our requirement going forward is that they downscale the types of equipment that they're investing in and look to invest more in the types of things that will make us continue to be compatible,” Austin said.
The defence secretary was responding to a question from Congressman Joe Wilson, a friend of India in the Congress who, of late, has been critical of India deciding to take an independent position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Gruesomely, our treasured ally India, the world's largest democracy, is choosing to align itself with the Kremlin by choosing Russian weapons systems over American and allied options,” Wilson said.
India has faced flak from US lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, for choosing to abstain from a UN votes to rebuke Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Unlike many other leading Western powers, India has not yet criticised Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and it abstained from the votes at the UN platforms in condemning the Russian aggression.
US officials have expressed concern over India's purchase of the S-400 missile systems by Russia.
“What weapons platforms could we offer through the foreign military sales programme that would incentivise rush -- Indian leaders to reject Putin and align with its natural allies of democracy?” he asked.
The United States has the finest weapons systems in the world and the most advanced weapons systems in the world, Austin said.
“So, we have a range of capabilities that we can provide or offer (to India),” said the defence secretary.
“I look forward to you continuing to work with the great people of India. And what a great ally they can be if we eliminate some of the restrictions on sales,” Wilson said.
In October 2018, India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems to ramp up its air defence, despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.
The US has already imposed sanctions on Turkey under the CAATSA for the purchase of a batch of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia.
In March, Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism that it was for the President Joe Biden to decide whether to apply or waive sanctions on India.
Lu said that the Biden administration is yet to decide on applying sanctions on India under CAATSA.
CAATSA is a tough US law which authorises the administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.
On Monday, the US Department of Defense said it is encouraged by Indian efforts to diversify the purchase of its military or defence articles.
“We have been very clear with our Indian partners about our concerns over this purchase and encouraging them, as we urge many others not to purchase Russian equipment,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters at a news conference.
“We remain encouraged by India's continued diversification of their defense equipment over just the past decade. So, we will continue to have that conversation with India's needs,” he said in response to a question.
“We have made it very clear to India about our concern on this particular purchase,” he said when asked about India's decision to buy the S-400 missile systems from Russia.
Despite strong objections from the US and threat of sanctions from the Biden administration, India has refused to make any changes in its decision and is going ahead with the purchase of the missile defense system.
India pursues an independent foreign policy and its defence acquisitions are guided by its national security interests, the Ministry of External Affairs said in November last year.