The Biden administration pulled out all the stops to persuade India to vote with 141 other countries who condemned Russia for attacking Ukraine, top U.S. diplomat Donald Lu said.
Mr. Lu was speaking to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, just after India had abstained from a vote on the U.N. General Assembly resolution.
“We have spared no effort to try to convince India both to vote in U.N. sessions but also to show support for Ukraine at this critical moment. Those efforts were led by Secretary Blinken,” Mr. Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told the committee, which was holding a hearing on U.S.-India relations, led by its chair (Democrat), Chris Murphy, and ranking member (Republican) Todd Young.
The Indian Government’s rationale was that it wanted to leave open the possibility of a diplomatic solution and was concerned about the welfare of 18,000 students in Ukraine and working with both sides to ensure their safety, Mr. Lu said.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (Democrat, Maryland) said concern over students’ lives was all the more reason to condemn Russian aggression.
At one point Mr. Young said that India was trying to stay on the side of the winners in the Russian-Ukraine (backed by the West) situation.
“I think they’re trying to pick the winning side. That may be a bit of the concern of some …in their government, and we need to demonstrate our firm resolve and unity so that they understand that we’re not going away,” he said.
“ We’re gonna stand with the Ukrainian people and make Vladimir Putin’s life hell in coming years.”
Several Senators expressed disappointment or a sense of being puzzled by India’s vote.
Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat said she was aware of the weapons connection but did not think “that also covered values”.
“India’s the world’s largest democracy. And so I had hoped that India would side with the rest of the world’s democracies in support of Ukraine,” she said.
Decision on sanctions or waiver for S-400 purchase not yet made
Mr. Lu was repeatedly asked if India would be sanctioned for its purchase of the S-400 Triumf missile defence system from Russia. The U.S.’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) law mandates sanctions for those buying arms from Russia, unless certain exceptions apply, permitting the president to waive such sanctions.
Mr. Lu said the question was still being considered and he did not want to prejudge the decisions of President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Tony Blinken on whether there would be sanctions or a waiver and whether Russia attacking Ukraine would have any bearing on that decision.
“What I can say is that India is a really important security partner of ours now and that we value moving forward that partnership,” he said.
“I hope that part of what happens with the extreme criticism that Russia has faced, is that India will find it’s now time to further distance itself.”
U.S. officials were also on the phone with Pakistani and Sri Lankan diplomats on the eve of the vote (Tuesday), trying to convince them to support the resolution, according to Mr. Lu. Both countries had abstained from the vote. Mr. Lu said that the administration was “trying to figure out how to engage specifically” with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan after his recent visit to Moscow.
Paying for not just high-end Russian systems like the S-400, but also ammunition and spare parts, was going to be difficult in the coming years, Mr. Lu said, pointing to the international banking sanctions on Moscow following its attack on Ukraine. He was responding to a question from Mr. Young on how the Biden administration was increasing the sale of weapons from the U.S. and allied countries to India.
“I would think if I was a consumer right now of Russian technology, I would want to make sure that I have diversity because we will see a problem for Russia’s customers in securing reliable supplies,” he said.