US President Joe Biden during a virtual exchange with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, April 11, 2022 at the White House (AFP / MANDEL NGAN)
Joe Biden and Narendra Modi had a “candid” virtual exchange Monday, but one that did not appear to have reconciled positions on the war in Ukraine, an issue that is destabilizing India-US relations.
“It is important that all countries, especially those that have influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin, “urge him to end the war,” US diplomat chief Antony Blinken told the press via video conference after the summit followed by a meeting in Washington with his Indian counterpart and the defense ministers of both countries.
“And it is also important that democracies (…) speak with one voice to defend the values we share,” he added.
The Biden administration, which has made India a pillar of American alliances in the Asia-Pacific zone against China, has been embarrassed by New Delhi’s positioning since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
Narendra Modi’s government has refrained from openly condemning the Russian invasion and taking part in related referendums at the United Nations.
In his conversation with Joe Biden, the Indian Prime Minister limited himself to describing the situation in Ukraine as “very worrying” and recalled his support for the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations, which Washington, for its part, views with skepticism.
Questioned about this lack of conviction, the chief of Indian diplomacy, S. Jaishankar, did not hide a trace of irritation. “Thank you for your advice and suggestions, but I prefer to do it my way,” he told a journalist during his press conference with Antony Blinken.
And while the US President has warned, according to the White House, that it is not “in India’s interest to speed up its imports of Russian energy” – which would partially offset the drop in Western purchases – the Indian minister was equally scathing. “Our purchases in a month are probably lower than in Europe in an afternoon,” he replied.
The nearly hour-long conversation between Joe Biden and Narendra Modi was therefore “warm” but above all “frank,” according to a senior White House official, who used the adjective repeatedly to translate a degree of tension in diplomatic language.
– “Crucial” partnership –
Failing to win over this important ally to its cause, Washington therefore seems to be multiplying the declarations of friendship in order to avoid gradually falling into the Russian camp, which is also wooing it.
At the start of the virtual meeting, Joe Biden praised the “deep connection” between the two countries and, in front of a big screen showing Narendra Modi, expressed his desire to “continue close consultations” on Ukraine.
“This is an important moment in world affairs and I think that this partnership is even more crucial and vital,” said Antony Blinken.
The United States, aware of India’s dependence on Russia for military equipment against a backdrop of close Cold War ties, knows it cannot rush this publicly.
Thus, after declaring at the beginning of the war that every country should take a clear position, the American government pretended to understand India’s caution – even if it spoke out more clearly against China.
“India must make its own decisions in the face of this challenge,” commented Antony Blinken without criticizing it head-on. On the contrary, he acknowledged that it “condemned” the killing of civilians in Ukraine and “provided significant humanitarian assistance.”
He also repeatedly pointed out that while India-Russia relations are much older than those between Washington and New Delhi, the latter is now developing at a rapid pace.
So, at odds over the war itself, American and Indian leaders have stressed their shared desire to mitigate its impact on the global economy and other commonalities, notably by signing a space cooperation agreement.