US President Joe Biden urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accelerate the purchase of Russian oil as several Western allies look to cut off Moscow's energy income after its invasion of Ukraine.
During an hour-long video call with both heads of state and senior officials, Biden and Modi expressed growing alarm over the destruction caused in Ukraine, especially Bucha, where many civilians have been killed.
However, the US president said India's position in the world wouldn't benefit by relying increasingly on Russian energy sources, according to US officials. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "The president conveyed very clearly that it is not in their interest to increase that."
While the meeting was described by US officials as "warm" and "candid," Biden stopped short of making a "concrete ask" of Modi.
India buys less 'in a month' than Europe 'in an afternoon'
Russian oil accounts for very little of India's energy imports but a recent drop in prices led to the country stepping up with a major purchase recently, even as other democracies try to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As the US raised concerns about the spike with India, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – in a separate news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – said that Washington should be more concerned about its European allies.
"I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon," Jaishankar said at the conference, where he was joined by his US counterpart Blinken, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
However, adopting a cautious approach with India, Biden told Modi that the US could help India diversify its sources of energy, Psaki said. Currently, Iraq (27%) is India's top supplier of oil imports, followed by Saudi Arabia (17%), the United Arab Emirates (13%), and the US (9%).
In comparison, the 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil that India has bought since the invasion, possibly owing to steep discounts, may seem small. But this is a monumental rise for a country that purchased some 16 million barrels for the whole of last year, according to Reuters data.
India adopts a neutral approach
The senior officials discussed the longstanding impact of the conflict in Europe, not just within the continent but across the world — for example, in the form of food insecurity and rising prices.
While India's neutral stand on the invasion has been lauded by Russia, it has been a cause for worry for the US. India has refrained from several efforts to hold Russia accountable for its invasion, abstaining when the UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from its seat on the Human Rights Council on Thursday.
Modi said he had spoken with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealing to both of them for peace.
US urges India to act
Acknowledging that India's ties with Russia and formerly the Soviet Union developed over decades at a time when the US was not able to be a partner to India, Blinken said: "Today we are able and willing to be a partner of choice with India across virtually every realm."
Austin appealed to India to act with fellow democracies for stronger action against the Russian offensive: "Now more than ever, democracies must stand together to defend the values that we all share.''
Following the talk, US officials maintained that the ultimate choice on the matter rested with Modi’s government. Modi and Biden are expected to meet again next month in Tokyo for a "Quad" summit with leaders from Australia and Japan.
see/msh (Reuters, AP)