A policewoman stands guard near the Russian embassy in anticipation of a demonstration called to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine in New Delhi on February 25, 2022.

A policewoman stands guard near the Russian embassy in anticipation of a demonstration called to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine in New Delhi on February 25, 2022. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

Biden Asks India to ‘Do More’ to Stop Russia and Help Ukraine

In a virtual meeting, the president pushed India’s Modi to cut Russian energy purchases, while the White House kept a diplomatically polite facade.

President Joe Biden urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “do more” to support Ukraine and slow down the import of Russian energy in a virtual meeting of the two leaders on Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

India’s close relationship with Russia, and reluctance to side against Moscow unequivocally in response to the Russia-Ukraine war, has become an issue of global concern this year. Indian leaders have sought to strike a balance between the nation’s historic ties to Russia and its more recent efforts to strengthen security partnerships with the United States. India’s military depends heavily on Russian-made hardware, but in recent years Modi’s government has purchased increased shares of U.S.-made weapons. India also has stood with the U.S.-led ‘Quad’ nations, along with Australia and Japan, designed to counter China’s regional influence. 

Most recently, critics have concentrated on India’s purchase of Russian oil, which is helping to prop up the Russian economy at a time when Biden is attempting to rally the world to cut off Putin as a consequence for his invasion of Ukraine. 

Biden kicked off the virtual meeting with Modi by praising the “strong and growing major defense partnership” between the United States and India, a sentiment the Indian leader echoed.

“I totally agree with you as two democracies that are the world’s largest and oldest, we are natural partners,” Modi said, before the pair and their teams continued the meeting privately. “The progress that has taken place in our relations in the last few years, the new momentum that has been created would have been hard to even imagine a few decades ago.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were scheduled to hold similar meetings in Washington with their Indian counterparts on Monday. 

Since Russia’s war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24, much of the world has united against Moscow. America has led global efforts to sanction Russia and cripple its economy, while supporting Ukraine with deliveries of military equipment and humanitarian aid. 

India has taken some steps alongside other countries to help Ukraine. The country has sent 90 tons of humanitarian relief to Ukraine, and intends to send another shipment of medicine soon, Modi said Monday. But India’s first public criticism of the war only came last week, when officials condemned Russia’s killing of civilians in Bucha and called for an independent investigation into Russia’s war crimes. 

India has also sided with Russia in a few matters. Last week, India abstained from a vote to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council and New Delhi is still importing gas from Russia, providing a lifeline to Moscow, which has been overwhelmingly cut off from much of the global economy. 

India and Russia have historically had a close relationship, including in defense. India has been the largest importer of Russian arms since 2016, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Between 2016 and 2020, almost half of Indian military imports came from Russia. In December, India received the first deliveries of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. 

“The invasion of Ukraine has put India in an unenviable position of choosing between what is right and what it believes is right for itself,” said Samir Saran, president of India’s largest think tank, the Observer Research Foundation, in a Hindustan Times commentary last month outlining how the war and other recent events highlight India’s unique position.  

Biden made no specific requests of Modi during their “productive” hour-long virtual meeting, a senior administration official told reporters. But Psaki said the administration is urging Modi to continue the positive steps he has taken so far to support Ukraine.

“Part of our objective now is to build on that and to encourage them to do more. That’s why it’s important to have leader-to-leader conversations,” Psaki said Monday at a briefing. 

Part of that includes urging India to buy less oil from Russia, a step the Biden administration has already taken by banning all imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal on March 8. Last month, India increased its Russian oil purchases to take advantage of cheap prices. During the month of March, India purchased about six million barrels of Russian oil, about the half the volume it bought in all of 2021, CNBC reported.

“We haven’t asked India to do anything in particular,” the senior administration official said. “We know not all countries will be able to do what we’ve done….That said, we don’t think India should accelerate or increase its import of Russian energy.” 

Psaki also downplayed India’s import of Russian oil at a briefing on Monday, saying that Russian imports comprise only 1 to 2 percent of India’s total energy imports. Still, she said the president urged Modi not to keep increasing India’s purchase of Russian energy. 

“The president also made clear that he does not believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy, and other commodities as well,” Psaki said.