- The Washington Times
Monday, April 11, 2022

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Biden Monday he hopes talks between Ukraine and Russia will lead to peace and called for an inquiry into atrocities outside of Kyiv as the U.S. prods India to take a harder line on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Modi said he‘s spoken on the phone multiple times with Mr. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the invasion began in late February.

“I not only appealed for peace but also suggested there be direct talks between President Putin and the president of Ukraine,” he said in a virtual meeting with Mr. Biden. “We had extensive discussion on Ukraine in our parliament as well. Recently, the news about the killing of innocent civilians in the Bucha city was very worrying. We instantly condemned the killing and have called for an independent inquiry. We hope that the ongoing discussions between Russia and Ukraine will lead to peace.”

India is a major democracy and key ally in the Indo-Pacific security “Quad” that also features the U.S., Japan and Australia.

Yet it has maintained a formally neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unnerving global partners.

India abstained from a recent vote to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council. It also continued to buy Russian oil at a discounted price despite a global push to cut off Moscow from such proceeds — though some European countries have maintained purchases, too.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently praised India for appraising “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.”

A senior U.S. administration official described the call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Modi as “warm and productive” but also “very candid.”

The official was careful not to condemn India’s purchases of Russian oil, noting it makes up a tiny percentage of India’s energy imports and not every country is in an ideal position to cut off supply from Russia. The official said the purchases were a topic of discussion.

“Other countries have to make their own choices,” the official said. “That said, we don’t think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy.”

The official said Mr. Biden talked about how India could diversity its energy supply and noted that India is near China, so Beijing’s relationship with Moscow could impact how it thinks about Ukraine.

India’s going to make its own judgments,” the official said. “The president shared his views and the prime minister shared his views.”

Mr. Biden struck a positive tone during the public portion of the meeting Monday, saying the countries have a deep connection and that the U.S. welcomes India’s humanitarian support for Ukraine.

Mr. Biden highlighted the Russian shelling of a Ukrainian train station where people were attempting to flee the violence in the eastern part of the country.

“The United States and India are going to continue our close consultation on how to manage the destabilizing effects of this Russian war,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Modi, likewise, hailed the U.S. and India as the largest and oldest democracies.

“We are natural partners and the progress that has taken place in our relations, the new momentum that has been created, would have been hard to even imagine a few decades ago,” Mr. Modi said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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