Biden, Modi meet virtually over Ukraine

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President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a virtual summit Monday, clouded by US frustration over New Delhi’s neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The South Asian nation has tried to walk a tightrope between maintaining relations with the West and avoiding alienating Russia, and has not imposed sanctions over the war.

New Delhi has raised concerns in Washington in particular by continuing to buy Russian oil and gas, despite pressure from Biden for world leaders to take a hard line against Moscow.

India said ahead of the talks the meeting would be about strengthening the allies’ “comprehensive global strategic partnership,” while Washington spotlighted “Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine and mitigating its destabilizing impact.”

The more pointed US statement suggested that a resolute Biden would press Modi to take a stronger line on Moscow during the call.

The state-run Indian Oil Corp. has bought at least three million barrels of crude from Russia since the start of the invasion on February 24, in defiance of an embargo by Western nations.

Biden and Modi failed to reach a joint condemnation of the Russian invasion when they last spoke in early March at a meeting of the so-called “Quad” alliance of the United States, India, Australia and Japan.

New Delhi abstained when the UN General Assembly voted last week to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in war crimes.

India ‘shaky’ on Russia?

The United States has already warned that any country that actively helps Russia to circumvent international sanctions will suffer “consequences.” Yet this has not deterred India from working with Russia on a rupee-ruble payment mechanism to circumvent banking sanctions, while taking advantage of discounted oil prices offered by Russian producers.