Blinken warns U.S. could target countries ignoring sanctions against Russia, leaves door open for India

iNDICA News Bureau-

Even as Germany signaled its readiness to forgo Russian oil, gas and coal, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the Biden Administration would consider taking action against countries that are not enforcing its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

Blinken, however, said the administration would take an indulgent approach toward countries that are “rethinking” their relationship with Moscow, sometimes going back decades, IANS reported.

Blinken did not specify what shape or form the ‘action’ would take, though some have suggested secondary sanctions. He also did not name any of the countries he had in mind in either category.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday preparations to limit German dependence on Russian energy were under way even before President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of the Ukraine Feb 24. So far Germany had been one of the key states opposing sanctions on the European Union’s imports of oil and gas from Russia.

India’s ties with Russia, especially its refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued import of Russian oil and gas, not to mention advanced defense equipment, have been raised by U.S. officials over the past two months. Delhi was even threatened with “consequences” by Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh on a visit to New Delhi earlier this month.

In general, however, the U.S. has said it does not want to see India increase its import of Russian energy beyond past levels to take advantage of the huge discounts Moscow is offering.

“It’s much better, in the first instance, if we can get any countries in question to voluntarily make sure they are joining us in implementing the sanctions and not allowing them to be evaded,” Blinken said at a hearing in the House of Representatives in response to a question about countries that are “hedging their bets” on Ukraine-related sanctions or allowing them to be evaded.

But the US is also “looking at” using authorities that it has to “take action against those that are not” enforcing the sanctions, he said.

Blinken went on to say that a number of countries “are rethinking their relationships, including their relationship with Russia going forward, and some of them had relationships with Russia going back decades, including at times when we couldn’t have the same kind of relationship with them and now we can.”

With these countries, he added, the U.S. needs to “make sure that we are helping advance that transition and doing it in a way that, as a strategic matter, moves things in the right direction”.

While Blinken avoided naming any country, India has had a long relationship with Russia going back more than 50 years to the period when the country was a part of the Soviet Union. There were times then that Moscow stood by India when the U.S. did not, including, most crucially, during the 1971 war with Pakistan, when America was, in fact, on the opposite side.

At a hearing at the U.S. Senate Tuesday, Blinken had faced similar questions about countries not enforcing the country’s Ukraine-related sanctions. One senator, Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, had suggested that the administration should consider secondary sanctions to force these countries to fall in line.

“We made the right decision by saying the United States is not going to continue to import Russian gas and oil, but if that oil is [in the] international market, and Putin is able to sell it to somebody else, that obviously doesn’t do us any good at all,” Van Hollen said at the hearing.

He added: “So I guess my question is very blunt: why aren’t we applying secondary sanctions against countries that are increasing their imports of Russian commodities?”

Van Hollen mentioned only China’s continued and increased purchase of Russian gas and oil, but a number of European countries — such as Germany — and India have been on the radar of American officials though India’s import of Russian energy has been described in the past by President Biden’s spokesperson as minuscule compared to its total energy imports.

Blinken had dismissed the suggestion outright. “Where we can, it is far preferable to get countries to voluntarily not engage in these practices,” he said.

The senator pressed him again: “There are countries that are taking advantage of discounted Russian oil prices and they are able to unload it at lower prices, and they are taking advantage of it, which only helps Putin.”

Other senators also pressed the secretary of state on this point though they did not go as far as to suggest that such countries be punished with secondary sanctions.