MARCH 8, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C.: An influential US Senator has warned the Biden administration against imposing sanctions against India for buying a Russian missile defense system at a time Moscow has turned toxic in Washington and countries not backing the western alliance are being looked at with suspicion.
In a Senate hearing on Monday, Texas Republican Ted Cruz made the surprising disclosure that “there are reports that the Biden administration is contemplating imposing CAATSA sanctions against India,” while arguing that any such decision would be “extraordinarily foolhardy.”
CAATSA, which stand for Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, refers to a US law aimed at punishing countries that buy Russian military hardware because of Moscow’s adversarial relationship with US predating the Ukraine invasion.
India had signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia in 2018 to buy five units of the S-400 air defence missile systems despite a warning from the then Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions. Supply of the system began late last year.
Although the Biden administration has also held out similar threats, some lawmakers have cautioned that India deserves to be treated differently than Turkey — which copped sanctions despite being a US ally via NATO — because of long-term US interests vis-a-vis China.
While critics of India’s largely neutral stance and abstaining from voting in the Russia-Ukraine spat raised the prospects of invoking CAATSA, Cruz pointed out that India was not the only country that abstained; UAE, which also has close military ties with US, also abstained.
The Biden administration has kept the CAATSA threat dangling over India’s head — in part to wean it away from Russian military supplies — saying no determination had been made as yet on the matter.
“I can assure you that the administration will follow the CAATSA law and fully implement that law and will consult with Congress as we move forward with any of them. 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,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Donald Lu, said at a hearing last week.
“India is a really important security partner of ours now….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,” he added.