Khanna’s legislation calls upon the US to “take additional steps to encourage India to accelerate India’s transition off Russian-built weapons and defense systems while strongly supporting India’s immediate defence needs”…writes Yashwant Raj
Ro Khanna, one of four Indian Americans in the US Congress, has moved a legislation to amend a law in order to exempt India from sanctions for purchasing high-value Russian military hardware, arguing that New Delhi needs them for the time being to defend the country against continued Chinese aggression.
The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions (CAATSA) Act seeks to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election, among other things, by imposing stiff US sanctions on countries that buy Russian weapons.
China and Turkey, a NATO member, have been sanctioned under this law since it was passed in 2017. India has been in the crosshairs for its purchase of S-400s, the Russian surface-to-air missile systems that have begun arriving in India, which would have technically triggered the sanction process, but hasn’t yet.
“While India faces immediate needs to maintain its heavily Russian-built weapons systems, a waiver to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act during this transition period is in the best interests of the United States and the United States-India defence partnership to deter aggressors in light of Russia and China’s close partnership.,” said Khanna’s proposed amendment.
The Congressman, who represents Silicon Valley in the US House of Representatives, argued that “India faces immediate and serious regional border threats from China, with continued military aggression by the Government of China along the India-China border” and India needs Russian weapons for its own defence.
Khanna’s legislation calls upon the US to “take additional steps to encourage India to accelerate India’s transition off Russian-built weapons and defense systems while strongly supporting India’s immediate defence needs”.
There was no immediate word on the chances of the passage of the amendment, or the support of other members. A response is awaited from Congressman Khanna’s office.
Talk of impending CAATSA sanctions has stalked India-US engagements from the time the law was enacted in 2017, under the Trump administration; it was a bipartisan congressional initiative and then President Donald Trump had no option but to sign it. Then Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had publicly pressed lawmakers to exempt India and other countries that used be to heavily reliant on Russian military hardware.
Speculation about sanctions picked up in recent months as India began receiving the missiles. But there has been no public indication that the administration is considering them.
President Joe Biden has moved US-India ties to the top of his foreign policy agenda. He called for and hosted the first summit of the Quad group that India and the US form with Japan and Australia – first virtual and then in-person – and has held several bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Observers have been sceptical if the US will indeed sanction India, jeopardising a growing relationship, joined, among other things, by shared concerns about an aggressive China. Additionally, India has been cutting its military reliance on Russia and buying more from the west.
Khanna’s resolution will earn him the much-needed warmth quotient from India, which has been irritated by his very public criticism of New Delhi’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He had also joined the Pakistan caucus of the US House of Representatives.
The other three Indian Americans in US congress are House of Representatives members Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal, and Ami Bera. The fifth, former Senator Kamala Harris left the Congress in 2021 before being sworn-in as President Biden’s Vice President.