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6 Apr, 2022 14:28

US warns India over Russian weapons

Lloyd Austin told lawmakers that Washington will require New Delhi to buy US armaments instead
US warns India over Russian weapons

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that India’s continued purchase of Russian weapons systems is “not in their best interest,” and that there will be a “requirement” that leaders in New Delhi swap some of these systems for US and allied armaments. India is the world’s largest military importer, and counts on Russia for nearly half of its external supply of weaponry.

Austin was responding to a question from Representative Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina), who described India as a “treasured ally” of the US and “the world’s largest democracy.” What, Wilson asked Austin, could the US do to convince “Indian leaders to reject Putin and align with its natural allies of democracy?”

Austin responded that the US has “the finest weapons systems in the world,” and would offer them to New Delhi.

“We continue to work with [India] to ensure that they understand 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. “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,” he added.

Austin is not the first US official to talk of boosting arms sales to India. Former President Donald Trump inked a $3 billion arms deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020, selling India Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles, in an apparent bid to counter China in South Asia. 

Despite this boost in sales, the US remains India’s third-largest arms supplier, providing just 12% of New Delhi’s lethal imports between 2017 and 2021. France provides 27% of India’s imported weapons, while Russia provides a whopping 46%, with all figures supplied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 

This partnership dates back to the Cold War, when India, as a founding member of the Non-Aligned movement, bought weapons from the Soviets without ever entering into a formal alliance with the USSR. According to some analysts, 85% of major Indian weapons systems to this day are of Russian or Soviet origin.

These include the Indian Air Force’s Su-30, MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter aircraft, the Indian Army’s T90MS main battle tank, and the Indian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier, the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya. Furthermore, despite intense pressure from Washington, including veiled threats of sanctions, New Delhi has pressed ahead with acquiring the Russian S-400 air defense system.

It is unclear which weapons systems Austin wants India to “downscale” its investment in, but allied purchases of the S-400 in particular have irked Washington in the past. Turkey bought the Russian system despite repeated warnings from the US, and was sanctioned and booted from the F-35 fighter program in 2019 in response.

Austin’s call to divest comes as the US pressures other world powers to back its attempts to isolate Russia following the latter’s military offensive on Ukraine. While European nations have heeded the call and sanctioned Russia – even to the detriment of their own economies – India has refused to abandon its neutral stance and has continued to trade with Russia, despite the White House’s protestations.