US Senators urge Biden administration to waive sanctions against India for purchase of Russian arms

The senators said, "We believe that the application of CAATSA sanctions could have a deleterious effect on a strategic partnership with India & not achieve the purpose of deterring Russian arms sales"

John Cornyn and Mark Warner
John Cornyn and Mark Warner


US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn sent a letter to President Biden encouraging him to waive Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia.

However, in the case of this current S-400 transaction involving India, "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," the US Senators wrote in the letter to Biden.

They wrote: "While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defense systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behavior."

Warner, a Democrat Senator and Cornyn, a Republican said, "As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the US, this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions."

"We share your concerns regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, even with these declining sales. We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment."

They added that India has taken significant steps to reduce its imports of Russian military hardware in recent years. From 2016 to 2020, there was a 53 percent drop in Russian arms exports to India compared to the preceding five-year period.

Meanwhile, India has shown its intent to purchase equipment from the United States, with sales reaching $3.4 billion in FY20. These are positive trends that show India's effort to reduce reliance on Russian equipment, and a desire to take advantage of its new status as a Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) partner, the letter said.

The Senators said we believe there is a national security imperative to waiving sanctions. Imposing sanctions at this time could derail deepening cooperation with India across all aspects of our bilateral relationship -- from vaccines to defense cooperation, from energy strategy to technology sharing.

"Furthermore, sanctions have the potential to embolden critics within India who warn that the United States will not be a consistent and reliable partner for cooperation, and to thwart the Indian government's efforts and long-term strategy to reduce Russian purchases and reliance on Russian defense hardware," they warned in the letter.

"We also propose that your administration establish a bilateral working group to identify ways to promote the security of US technology, and to chart a path forward to develop strategies to enhance US-India military interoperability. We believe these actions reinforce India's status as a Major Defense Partner and will provide another avenue to counter PRC influence in the Indo-Pacific," they added.

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