The U.S. and India — democracies and friends — agree to disagree on the Ukraine war

The U.S. and India — democracies and friends — agree to disagree on the Ukraine war

9:57pm Apr 12, 2022
President Biden meets virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington on Monday.
President Biden meets virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington on Monday.
Carolyn Kaster / AP

Updated April 12, 2022 at 1:21 PM ET

India, the world's largest democracy, has not yet condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine — and the U.S. wants to change that.

President Biden tried to lobby for India's support during a virtual summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their Indian counterparts.

Here's what to know about the context and takeaways from those discussions.

Why has India remained neutral so far?

Modi condemned the civilian killings in Ukraine on Monday, but didn't say who was responsible.

On the one hand, India shares democratic values with the U.S. On the other hand, India doesn't always trust the West. India has a colonial past, it was nonaligned during the Cold War, and it wants to make its own decisions. And it also buys a lot of weapons, fertilizer and oil from Russia.

It's also worried that if it alienates Russia, it could push Russia closer to China.

What is the U.S. doing to try to change India's stance?

A U.S. deputy national security adviser visited India a few weeks ago and warned of consequences for countries that circumvent Western sanctions on Russia. But the White House is also careful to say it respects India's decisions and doesn't want to tell it what to do.

In their public comments yesterday, Biden and Modi spoke about friendship and shared values. But a White House official said afterward that during their private meeting, Biden asked Modi not to accelerate purchases of Russian oil.

In other words, the U.S. is not asking India to cut off Russian oil completely — just not to increase its reliance on it.

What is India saying?

Essentially, India listened and made no promises. Indian officials have bristled at the topic, because Europe buys much more Russian oil and gas than it does.

"Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon," India's external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, said at a press conference on Monday. "So you might want to think about that."

Modi and Biden also talked about defense cooperation and trade between their nations and are meeting in Tokyo next month with leaders from Japan and Australia to talk about countering China.

While the U.S. would like to hear India condemn Russia, it also needs its help on China — so it may have to pick its battles.


The digital version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

India is the world's biggest democracy, but it has not condemned the invasion of a sovereign country, Ukraine. The Biden administration wants that to change. President Biden held a virtual summit yesterday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Secretary of State Blinken met his Indian counterpart. So did Defense Secretary Austin. The elephant in the room for all of those meetings is Russia. NPR's India correspondent, Lauren Frayer, is following India's most recent statements from our bureau in Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Prime Minister Modi yesterday condemned the civilian killings in Ukraine but didn't say who was responsible and hasn't condemned Russia's invasion. I mean, on the one hand, India shares democratic values with the U.S. On the other hand, India doesn't always trust the West. India has a colonial past. It was nonaligned during the Cold War. It wants to make its own decisions. And it also buys a lot of weapons, fertilizer and oil from Russia. And India also has another concern, which is China. It worries that if it alienates Russia, it could push Russia closer to China.

MARTINEZ: So what is the Biden administration then doing to try and get India to change its stance?

FRAYER: Well, the U.S. deputy national security adviser visited India a couple of weeks ago and warned of consequences for countries that circumvent Western sanctions on Russia. But the White House is also careful to say, you know, it respects India's decisions. It doesn't want to tell India what to do. And yesterday in their public comments, President Biden and Prime Minister Modi talked about shared values and friendship. But a White House official told us afterward that in their private meeting, Biden asked Modi not to accelerate purchases of Russian oil. So the U.S. isn't asking India to go cold turkey and cut off Russian oil completely. It just doesn't want it to accelerate buying.

MARTINEZ: Not accelerate. So what did India say?

FRAYER: India listened and made no promises. You know, as Western countries boycott Russian oil, it's getting cheaper for countries like India that have huge energy demands. And India, by the way, has really bristled at this topic because Europe actually buys way more Russian oil and gas than India does. And so here's what India's external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, said at a news conference yesterday when he was asked about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

S JAISHANKAR: Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So you might want to think about it.

FRAYER: You might want to think about that, he says. I mean, from his perspective, this oil issue has been way overblown and it's totally overshadowed lots of other really important things in the U.S.-India relationship.

MARTINEZ: Other things. So what are those other things. And did they manage to talk about them, or was these meetings really just dominated by Ukraine?

FRAYER: Yeah, Prime Minister Modi and President Biden talked about defense cooperation. They also talked about what they called really robust U.S.-India trade. And they're meeting again next month in Tokyo to talk about countering China. And those meetings are with - are a quad summit with other countries, Japan and Australia. But, you know, at the end of the day, the U.S. would love to hear India condemn Russia. But the U.S. also really needs India's help on China, so it may have to pick its battles.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. Lauren, thanks a lot.

FRAYER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Support your
public radio station