US Defence Secretary urges all its allies and partners to avoid buying Russian equipment

New Delhi, Mar 20 (PTI) US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday said there was no discussion with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the possibility of American sanctions against India over its plan to buy S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.

At the same time, Austin urged all the allies and partners of the US to avoid buying Russian equipment that may invite US sanctions.

“There has been no delivery of the S-400 system. and so the issue of sanctions is not the one that has been discussed,” Secretary Austin said while replying to a question at a select media briefing.

When pressed further, he said there was no reason for the sanctions to be on the table as India has not acquired the systems.

The US has imposed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for purchase of S-400 missile defences from Russia.

“We have countries that we work with from time-to-time that have Russian equipment acquired over the years,” he said.

“Certainly we urge all our allies and partners to move away from Russian equipment and avoid any kind of acquisition that would trigger any kind of sanctions on our behalf,” he added.

Ahead of Austin’s high-profile India visit, Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a letter urged the US Defence Secretary to take up with Indian leaders the issue of New Delhi procuring Russian S-400 missile defence system.

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

India made the first tranche of payment of around USD 800 million to Russia for the missile systems in 2019. The S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.

Following US sanctions on Turkey, there have been apprehensions that Washington may impose similar punitive measures on India.

Austin flew into India on Friday as part of his three-nation first overseas tour that signalled the Biden administration’s strong commitment to its relations with its close allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. He visited Japan and South Korea before arriving here.

On Friday, Austin called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

He held extensive talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday during which both sides resolved to further consolidate India-US defence ties through deeper military-to-military engagement with the US describing the partnership.

Later, he met Jaishankar.