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Need to help India find alternatives to Russian military equipment: Biden admin tells lawmakers


WASHINGTON: Ahead of her India visit for “foreign office consultations” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, has told lawmakers that the US needs to help India find alternatives to Russian military equipment and that is part of the “job we have to do.”

Nuland is travelling to India as part of a four-nation trip including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Qatar from January 28 to February 3.

“I think they (India) find themselves after 60 years of entanglement having to find alternatives, and that’s part of the job we have to do, is help them with alternatives,” Nuland told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a Congressional hearing on Russia.

She was responding to a question from Senator Jeff Merkley when she told lawmakers that she is travelling to India.

“I’m glad to hear that you’re going to India. I would think that after the performance of Russian weapons on the battlefield has been demonstrated, they might be somewhat less interested,” Merkley said.

India has faced flak from US lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, for choosing to abstain from a UN vote to rebuke Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US officials have also expressed concern over India’s purchase of the S-400 missile systems by Russia.

“On my last trip to India, that was one of the first things we said, look at how these weapons perform on the battlefield,” Nuland said in response.

Merkley said both India and South Africa, along with the ASEAN nations, with whom the US is having difficulty in getting to take a strong stand against Russia. “I think it particularly bothers me with democracy in South Africa as democracies,” he said.

“With regard to South Africa and India, as you know, these countries have long-standing historic intertwining with Russia,” Nuland answered.

“We have been making the case regularly with them that these dependencies that they’ve created make them more vulnerable and we will continue to do that. In the case of the oil price cap, as you know, which India was quite sceptical of, they’re now major beneficiaries because the oil that they’re buying from Russia is so much cheaper,” she said.

“We are now working with them on ways to diversify away from Russian weapons. I’ll be in India next week talking about that among other things. The South African situation is complex and is also tied to some of the politics inside South Africa,” Nuland said.

In October 2018, India signed a USD 5 billion deal with Russia to buy five units of the S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems to ramp up its air defence, despite a warning from the then-Trump administration that going ahead with the contract may invite US sanctions.

Despite strong objections from the US and the threat of sanctions from the Biden administration, India has refused to make any changes in its decision and is going ahead with the purchase of the missile defence system.

India pursues an independent foreign policy and its defence acquisitions are guided by its national security interests, the Ministry of External Affairs said in November 2021.

India’s appetite for Russian oil has swelled ever since it started trading on discount as the West shunned it to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The Indian government has been vehemently defending its oil trade with Russia, saying it has to source oil from where it is the cheapest.

Russia has for the second month in a row remained India’s top oil supplier in November, surpassing traditional sellers Iraq and Saudi Arabia, according to data from energy cargo tracker Vortexa.

Russia, which made up for just 0.2 per cent of all oil imported by India in the year to March 31, 2022, supplied 9,09,403 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil to India in November. (PTI)

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