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 on Monday, but it did not appear to reconcile positions on the war in Ukraine, a topic that destabilizes the relationship between India and the United States.
“It is important that all countries, especially those with influence” on Russian President Vladimir Putin, urge him to end the war,” Chief of US Diplomacy Anthony Blinken told the press after this summit via video link, followed by a meeting in Washington with his Indian counterpart and the defense ministers of the two countries.
“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 one of the pillars of American alliances in the Asia-Pacific region against China, has been embarrassed by New Delhi’s position since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Narendra Modi’s government refrained from publicly condemning the Russian invasion, and from joining the vote for that purpose at the United Nations.
Speaking with Joe Biden, the Indian prime minister confined himself to describing the situation in Ukraine as “extremely worrying”, recalling his support for the Russia-Ukrainian negotiations that Washington is watching with skepticism.
Pressed with questions about this lack of condemnation, the head of Indian diplomacy S. Jaishankar no hint of annoyance. “Thank you for your advice and suggestions, but I’d rather do it my way,” he told the reporter during his press conference with Anthony Blinken.
While the US president warned, according to the White House, that it would not be “in India’s interest to speed up” its imports of Russian energy – which would partly offset the decline in Western purchases – the Indian minister was equally scathing. “Our purchases in a month are probably lower than in Europe in the afternoon,” he replied.
The nearly hour-long conversation between Joe Biden and Narendra Modi was “warm” but above all “candid,” according to a senior White House official, who repeatedly used the adjective to translate some tension into diplomatic language.
– ‘Critical’ partnership –
Having failed to win over this key ally to her cause, Washington appears to be doubling down on pledges of friendship to prevent her from slipping gradually into the Russian camp, which is also courting her.
At the beginning of the virtual meeting, Joe Biden praised the “deep relationship” between the two countries, and in front of a large screen on which Narendra Modi appeared, he expressed his desire to “continue” “close consultations” on Ukraine.
As Anthony Blinken insisted, “This is an important moment in world affairs, and I think this partnership is therefore even more important and vital.”
The United States, aware of India’s dependence on Russia for military equipment against the background of close relations inherited from the Cold War, knows that it cannot rush it publicly.
So, after emphasizing at the start of the war that any country should take a clear stand, the US government pretended to understand India’s caution – even as it raised its voice more explicitly against China.
“India must make its own decisions in the face of this challenge,” Anthony Blinken commented, without directly criticizing it. On the contrary, he admitted that she “condemned the killing of civilians” in Ukraine while “providing significant humanitarian aid”.
Likewise, he has repeatedly pointed out that while Indo-Russian relations are much older than relations between Washington and New Delhi, the latter are now developing at a high speed.
In the controversy over the war itself, American and Indian leaders thus emphasized their common desire to mitigate its effects on the global economy, and on other common ground, notably the signing of a space cooperation agreement.