Opinion | The United States wants to strike a wedge between India and Russia

Immediately, India appears quite helpless in the West’s desire to condemn, isolate and punish Putin and Russia. When India abstained from voting, condemning Russia at the UN, a senior White House official called the actions “unsatisfactory” but “not surprising.” India has not joined the United States and Europe in sanctioning Russia and has avoided condemning the invasion. Right-wing media outlets that have been out with anti-American and anti-Western propaganda about the war, which probably would not have been allowed if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a strong objection to it. The same goes for the big #ISstandWithPutin campaign on Indian social media.

After speaking with Modi in early March, President Biden himself described India’s handling of the crisis as “somewhat shocking.” Lawmakers in both parties in Congress have been waving their fingers sternly at New Delhi over the past few weeks.

But behind the scenes, something much more interesting is happening. The two administrations are working together on how to mitigate the economic, energy and humanitarian consequences in the short and medium term of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is bidding on New Delhi that India’s long-term friendship with Moscow is more troublesome than it is worth.

“India is going to make its own choices. India values ​​its strategic autonomy. India is evaluating the situation. But this war is changing the geopolitical landscape,” a senior administration official told me. “When you look at how things are changing in the region “New Delhi needs to evaluate right now who it wants to work with.”

On Wednesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh, the administration’s point guard on sanctions in Russia, arrived in New Delhi for two days of talks with top Indian officials. Although India itself does not sanction Russia, it also does not want to be caught by US sanctions.

Singh is also there to coordinate the economic part of the crisis. India is not so dependent on Russia for energy, but the disruption of agricultural commodities like Ukrainian wheat and sunflower oil can have huge economic ripple effects. Washington and New Delhi have a common interest in finding ways to stabilize regional food and energy supplies and markets.

Despite the public sniper, privately, the two administrations have been coordinating closely since the crisis broke out. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar know each other very well and are in regular direct contact. President Biden spoke directly to Modi during a March 3 call among leaders of the “Quad”, a diplomatic group of the United States, Australia, India and Japan. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin welcome their Indian colleagues to meetings in Washington in early April.

On the defense side, the Biden team is working particularly hard to lure India away from its dependence on Russian military hardware. Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, traveled to New Delhi last week and told officials there that the ever-strengthening Russia-China axis was not good for India and that the United States could help with defense supplies if India wants to cut vacancies. .

India has already gotten used to Russian military imports, which fell to 46 per cent of India’s total defense imports over the past five years, down from 69 percent in the previous five-year period. Now that the Kremlin’s defense industry has to spend years rebuilding the Russian military, India may find itself at the end of the queue for new equipment.

Experts warn that if India’s strategic direction changes due to the Ukraine war, it will happen very slowly. Although India is more in line with the US on China, fundamental differences with respect to Russia are likely to continue. But over time, it is very possible that India will realize that Russia is simply not a reliable partner.

“The best way for the United States to approach this moment is not to force India to make a choice, but to enable India to make choices that are also in the interest of the United States,” said Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at Brookings Institution. “For them, strategic autonomy means independence of action.”

Ultimately, democracies have a fundamental common interest in preventing autocracies from expanding. India, as the world’s largest democracy, ultimately belongs within that fold. But whether the leaders of Washington and New Delhi can overcome history and politics to realize that vision remains to be seen.

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