US seeks to boost arms sales to India after sanctions hit Russian defence exports

Diplomats hope sanctions will prevent Moscow from exporting weapons to countries such as India, allowing US to fill the void

India's purchase of the Russian S-400 air-defence system has drawn scrutiny in the US. AFP
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The US hopes to take advantage of its newly imposed sanctions against Moscow to lure India away from Russian weapons and increase American arms sales to its ally, a State Department official told Congress on Wednesday.

Assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs Donald Lu floated the idea while testifying before the Senate, as senators expressed disappointment over India abstaining from a UN resolution condemning Russia over the Ukraine incursion.

Mr Lu said the new international restrictions on Russia’s financial sector would restrict India’s ability to continue buying the country's defence equipment on which it has long relied.

“If you don’t have a banking system, it’s very hard for other countries to pay millions of dollars in roubles or in yen or in euros to pay for these defence systems,” Mr Lu said.

“Many countries that have these legacy Russian systems will be worried.”

He said the sanctions would provide “an opportunity” for the US and other countries that export advanced military technology “to go after new markets to make sure we’re not only selling the high end, we’re selling the middle and low end as well".

“If I was a consumer right now of Russian technology, I would want to make sure that I have diversity, because we will see a problem for Russia’s customers in securing reliable supplies,” said Mr Lu.

Mr Lu said that over the past few weeks India has cancelled defence imports from Russia, including orders for the MiG-29 fighter jet and weapons systems.

Like other countries, India has come under US scrutiny for buying the Russian S-400 missile defence system, raising questions as to whether it runs afoul of a Russia sanctions law that Congress passed in 2017.

Several senators said it was important to maintain a robust Indian military as a bulwark against rival China.

But they expressed dismay at India’s abstention on Wednesday over the UN resolution condemning Russia for the Ukraine incursion.

“Many of my colleagues and I are puzzled by India’s equivocation in the face of the biggest threat to democracy since World War Two,” said Democrat Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate’s South Asia panel.

“We hope that India soon will get on the right side of history.”

Democrat Chris Van Hollen also expressed “extreme disappointment” in India’s abstention.

Mr Lu acknowledged India’s stated position of abstaining from the vote to remain neutral and work towards a diplomatic solution between Russia and Ukraine.

“We have seen them make the right phone calls that suggest they’re serious about that,” Mr Lu said. “Unfortunately, they have not yet been effective.”

Updated: March 02, 2022, 11:03 PM