US deputy NSA raises war ‘consequences’ in India

Updated on Apr 01, 2022 12:17 AM IST

Daleep Singh cautioned India against expecting Russia to come to the country’s defence if China were to violate the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

US deputy NSA Daleep Singh. (File Photo/AP_
US deputy NSA Daleep Singh. (File Photo/AP_

New Delhi: The US doesn’t want to see a “rapid acceleration” in India’s imports from Russia of energy and other commodities prohibited by global sanctions regimes, and there will be consequences for countries that attempt to circumvent the embargoes, US deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh said on Thursday.

Singh, seen as the architect of American sanctions targeting President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle and the Russian financial system, also cautioned India against expecting Russia to come to the country’s defence if China were to violate the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since Moscow and Beijing are now in a “no-limits partnership”.

During an interaction with a small group of journalists amid his engagements with Indian interlocutors, Singh was unusually blunt in his remarks about the consequences for any country trying to backfill sanctions imposed on Russia for “Putin’s needless war” against Ukraine. However, he noted that friends such as the US and India don’t set “red lines”, and his discussions in New Delhi amounted to an “honest dialogue” about protecting core principles underpinning global peace and security.

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He added the US is ready to help India diversify both energy supplies and military hardware but acknowledged this will be a time consuming process. “The conversation I’ve had here is that we stand ready to help India diversify its energy resources, much like is the case for defence resources over a period of time,” he said.

There was no immediate response from Indian officials to Singh’s remarks. US officials have acknowledged India’s position as a key partner in the Indo-Pacific as well as its reliance on Russia for defence hardware. However, there has been growing pressure on India to change its stance on the Ukraine crisis.

“What we would not like to see is a rapid acceleration of India’s imports from Russia as it relates to energy or any other exports that are currently being prohibited by the US or by other aspects of the international sanctions regime,” Singh said on Thursday in response to a question about India’s recent decision to take up Russia’s offer of discounted crude oil.

While noting that US financial sanctions exempt energy payments and that there is currently no prohibition on energy imports from Russia, Singh said the US and its European allies have a shared interest in reducing their reliance on an “unreliable energy supplier” such as Russia.

“I come here in a spirit of friendship to explain the mechanisms of our sanctions, the importance of joining us to express shared resolve and to advance shared interests. And yes, there are consequences to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill these sanctions,” he said, while also acknowledging that India and Russia are engaged in efforts to find a payments solution that is a workaround to the sanctions.

“We are very keen for all countries, especially our allies and partners, not to create mechanisms that prop up the rouble and that attempt to undermine the dollar-based financial system,” he added.

Singh declined to go into specifics about the consequences, saying these are part of “private discussions that I’m not going to share publicly”.

Responding to a question from HT on US President Joe Biden’s remarks about India’s position within the Quad being “somewhat shaky” on the Ukraine crisis and whether such differences could affect the Quad, Singh said there is a shared recognition in the Quad that “China is a strategic threat to a free, open and secure Indo-Pacific”.

“If you set that against the reality that China and Russia have now declared a no-limits partnership, and that Russia has said that China is its most important strategic partner, by extension, that has real implications for India,” he said.

“No one should kid themselves – Russia is going to be the junior partner in this relationship with China. And the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breached the Line of [Actual] Control, that Russia would come running to India’s defence,” he added.

Since he arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday, Singh has met commerce minister Piyush Goyal and officials of the Prime Minister’s Office, National Security Council and external affairs ministry. There were no official readouts on these meetings.

India and the US are also set to hold the much-delayed 2+2 dialogue of their defence and foreign ministers in the US in mid-April.

India has so far refrained from publicly censuring Russia for the invasion of Ukraine and also abstained on all Ukraine-related votes at UN bodies – moves that have been linked to New Delhi’s long-standing defence and strategic partnership with Moscow. India has, however, called for respecting the UN Charter and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pressed for an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue in his conversations with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Singh was the latest in a long list of Western leaders and officials making a beeline to New Delhi to nudge the Indian government to change its position on the Ukraine crisis and to pressure Russia to end the war. He arrived in the Indian capital a day ahead of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who will hold talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Friday.

Singh accused Putin of violating all the core principles underpinning global peace and security – “the principle that you can’t redraw borders by force, the principle that you can’t subjugate the will of the free people, that countries have the right to set their own course” – and this can be a signal to “autocrats all over the world that might wish to exert their own sphere of influence, bully their neighbours, perhaps right on India’s doorstep”.

The US wants to broaden the coalition against Russia because “when democracies don’t stand up in solidarity and defend those principles together, the costs and risk to all of us become that much larger”, he said.

The American sanctions are working on five separate channels – imposing “immediate and acute costs through a financial shock to Russia’s largest banks”, cutting off technologies needed by Putin to modernise the military and diversify the economy, “methodically ejecting Russia from the international world order” by revoking most favoured nation status and denying borrowing privileges at the IMF and World Bank, “exposing and holding to account the Russian kleptocracy”, and “downgrading Russia’s status as a leading energy supplier”.

Singh said: “The intent of these sanctions is to change Putin’s strategic calculus, to show unequivocally that if he continues to wage this needless, illegal, unprovoked war of aggression, it will be a strategic failure.” He accused Russia, one of the largest energy suppliers, of periodically weaponising supplies.

Some sanctions shutting off Russia’s access to advanced technologies will also affect its ability to export advanced military equipment. “That poses a material risk to India in terms of its readiness to defend itself. And so our message is we stand ready to help, to help India as a reliable supplier, if it would like to diversify away from Russian military equipment over time, recognising that’s going to be a long process,” he said.

Sameer Patil, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said the US was clearly riled by India’s “neutral” stance on the Ukraine conflict. “Among the major allies of the US, it is only India which has so far refrained from taking a position critical of Russia and that hasn’t gone down well with the US. Even if the US may be reconciled to India’s neutral stance, and probably understands India’s compulsions, Washington is unlikely to see with the same understanding lens New Delhi’s actions such as buying Russian oil,” he said.

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