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US Defense Secretary urges India to avoid buying Russian military equipment

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III addresses the U.S. military in a video statement, Feb. 19, 2021. (Department of Defense/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has reiterated that U.S. allies should steer clear of purchasing Russian military equipment to avoid sanctions after a meeting on March 20 with his Indian counterpart.

“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.

Austin’s comment came after he and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh discussed India’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system. India made an initial payment in 2019 toward the purchase, and the first set of missile batteries are expected later this year.

Ahead of Austin’s trip, Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked him to reaffirm the Biden administration’s opposition to India’s planned purchase of the Russian system.

Menendez said in a letter to Austin that the purchase “threatens future U.S.-India defense cooperation and puts India at risk of sanctions.”

The United States last year imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying the S-400 system.

Austin’s two-day visit to India is the first by a top member of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration. Washington is seeking closer ties with allies in the region to push back against China’s assertiveness there.