U.S. defense secretary urges India to avoid buying Russian equipment

Aditi Shah and Nigam Prusty
·2-min read
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visits New Delhi

By Aditi Shah and Nigam Prusty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed India's planned purchase of Russia's S400 air defence system at a meeting with his Indian counterpart on Saturday, reiterating U.S. allies should steer clear of Russian equipment to avoid sanctions.

"We certainly urge all our allies, our partners to move away from Russian equipment ... and really avoid any kind of acquisitions that would trigger sanctions on our behalf," Austin told reporters in New Delhi.

No S400 systems have been delivered to India and so the possibility of sanctions was not discussed, he said.

The United States last year imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying the S400 system.

India made an initial payment of $800 million in 2019 towards the Russian purchase and the first set of missile batteries are expected later this year.

Ahead of Austin's trip, Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked him to raise democracy and human rights concerns in his talks with the Indian government, as well reaffirm the Biden administration's opposition to India's planned purchase of the Russian systems.

Austin is making the first visit by a top member of U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to India as part of efforts to forge an alliance of countries seeking to push back against China's assertiveness in the region.

The leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan - countries together known as the Quad - held a first summit last week pledging to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific and to cooperate on maritime and cyber security in the face of challenges from China.

"India, in particular, is an increasingly important partner among today's rapidly shifting international dynamics," Austin said after meeting Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, during which they discussed strengthening security ties.

"We discussed opportunities to elevate the U.S.-India major defence partnership ... and we'll do that through regional security cooperation and military to military interactions and defence trade," Austin added.

The United States has emerged as one of India's biggest arms sellers, and the two sides are also discussing India's plan to buy armed drones from the United States as well as a large order for over 150 combat jets for the air force and the navy to help narrow the gap with China, Reuters reported on Friday.

U.S. firms Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin are front runners for the multibillion-dollar combat jet deals.

Austin met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his arrival in New Delhi on Friday. He leaves on Sunday.

India drew closer to the United States last year following a deadly border clash with China. Washington has helped New Delhi, leasing surveillance drones and supplying cold-weather gear for Indian troops.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah and Nigam Prusty; Editing by Kim Coghill and Mark Potter)