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 “frank” virtual exchange on Monday, but which does not seem to have reconciled positions on the war in Ukraine, a subject that is destabilizing the relationship between India and the United States.
A senior White House official explained to reporters that the US President and the Indian Prime Minister had a discussion lasting around an hour, “warm” but above all “frank” – she used this adjective several times which diplomatic language conveys a certain tension.
‘The president has made it clear that he does not believe it is in India’s interest to accelerate or increase its imports of Russian energy’, which so far is a very small part of its purchases, “or other raw materials”, then reported its spokeswoman Jen Psaki, assuring that Washington was even ready to “help” the Indians to “diversify” them.
The Americans fear that India will fly to Russia’s aid by offsetting some of the sanctions linked to the invasion of Ukraine, such as the end or reduction of Russian gas, oil or coal imports decreed by the West.
The Biden administration, which wants to consolidate American alliances in the Asia-Pacific zone to deal with China, and in particular relaunch the so-called “Quad” format (United States, India, Australia and Japan), is for the less embarrassed by New Delhi’s positioning since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Against the backdrop of close ties inherited from the Cold War, Narendra Modi’s government describes Moscow as an “essential pillar” of its foreign policy because of its “strategic partnership” for its national security.
– Russian weapons –
Russia remains India’s leading arms supplier, but New Delhi also imports, in addition to oil, Russian fertilizers and rough diamonds. India exports to the Russian market pharmaceutical products, tea and coffee.
The White House, well aware of India’s dependence on Russia in military matters, knows that it cannot publicly rush this important ally.
As a result, after asserting at the start of the war that every country had to take a clear position, the American government pretended to be understanding of India’s caution — even though it more clearly raised its voice against the China.
“India makes its own decisions,” commented the senior American official in response to questions about energy or the fact that New Delhi did not join the votes condemning Moscow at the UN.
The American strategy therefore seems to be aimed at multiplying the tokens of friendship to prevent India from sliding gradually into the opposing camp.
At the start of the virtual meeting, Joe Biden thus praised the “deep connection” between the two countries and, facing a large screen on which appeared Narendra Modi, expressed his wish to “continue” the “close consultations” on Ukraine. .
The Indian Prime Minister confined himself to describing the situation in Ukraine as “very worrying”, recalling his support for the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations which Washington is observing with skepticism.
“This is an important moment in world affairs, and I think this partnership is even more crucial and vital as a result,” US Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said a little later at the opening of a face-to-face meeting in Washington with his Indian counterpart and the defense ministers of both countries.
Sign of the competition between Americans and Russians to attract the support of New Delhi, the recent visit to the Indian capital of one of Joe Biden’s senior security advisers, Daleep Singh, almost coincided with that of the Russian minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, who came to praise India’s balanced approach to the war in Ukraine.
On the American side, efforts are being made to convince India that betting on Russia will eventually weaken it against China, whose affirmation in the Asia-Pacific worries both Washington and New Delhi.