WASHINGTON ― Two key senators are urging President Joe Biden to waive sanctions against India for its purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system, saying such a move would throw cold water on the important relationship.
India signed a $5.4 billion deal with Russia in 2018 to buy the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system amid tensions with Pakistan over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. India has since made a down payment and plans to complete the purchase by 2025.
But the lawmakers worry the move makes India eligible for sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which Congress passed in 2017 to punish Russia for meddling in U.S. elections.
On Tuesday, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote to Biden to call for a waiver on national security grounds and to preserve the relationship. Biden has revitalized the Indo-Pacific alliance known as “the Quad,” with India, Australia and Japan, to counter a rising China.
“In the midst of this strengthening bilateral relationship, we are concerned that possible upcoming sanctions against India could reverse or slow this progress,” they wrote.
It’s not the first call for a waiver for India. Under the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued for it.
Cornyn and Warner, co-chairs of the India Caucus, said they generally favor sanctions law, but not in this case.
“We believe that the application of CAATSA sanctions could have a deleterious effect on a strategic partnership with India, while at the same time, not achieve the intended purpose of deterring Russian arms sales,” they wrote.
From 2016 to 2020, India cut arms imports from Russia by 53 percent compared to the preceding five-year period, they said. It also agreed in 2020 to purchase $3.4 billion worth of U.S. military equipment.
They recommended Biden act to further these trends.
“We also propose that your administration establish a bilateral working group to identify ways to promote the security of U.S. technology, and to chart a path forward to develop strategies to enhance U.S.-India military interoperability,” the senators wrote.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.