Did everything to convince India to oppose Russia’s actions, says US

ByPrashant Jha I Washington
Mar 03, 2022 09:41 PM IST

The US has been ‘relentlessly’ engaged with India on Ukraine; it has, at the highest levels, in a ‘pitch battle’, sought to convince New Delhi to take a clear position to oppose Russia’s aggression.

The United States (US) has been “relentlessly” engaged with India on Ukraine; it has, at the highest levels, in a “pitch battle”, sought to convince New Delhi to take a clear position to oppose Russia’s aggression; and has flagged the “Russia-China nexus”, at a time when China has kept engaging in provocative actions vis a vis India, in a bid to align India’s position with the rest of the world, a top US administration official told senators at a hearing convened by a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A Ukrainian soldier keeps position sitting on a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun at a frontline, northeast of Kyiv on Thursday. (AFP)
A Ukrainian soldier keeps position sitting on a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun at a frontline, northeast of Kyiv on Thursday. (AFP)

As senators expressed their disappointment at India’s abstention on the Ukraine vote in the United Nations, Donald Lu, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said that Washington has noticed an evolution in India’s position on the issue in the last week, has observed India’s effort to reduce dependence on Russia for defence equipment in the past decade, believes that the killing of an Indian student in Ukraine is tilting public opinion in the country away from Russia, and hopes that unprecedented sanctions now imposed on Russia will make India diversify its defence relationships to an even greater degree.

“I want to describe a pitch battle that we have been having. Secretary (Antony) Blinken has been on the frontlines of that battle. The president, other senior officials in the State Department have been relentlessly conducting very serious high-level dialogue with our Indian counterparts over months now, culminating in the past week. We can already see an evolution in some of India’s public position,” said Lu.

Among the changes, the US official mentioned India’s supply of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine at the request of the Ukrainian government, and India’s references in its statement in the UN to international law, the UN Charter, and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.

When Senators asked Lu about the reasons offered by India for its position, Lu referred to the presence of Indian students in Ukraine, and Delhi’s indication to Washington that it wanted to be in a position to keep the diplomatic door open in a bid to find a solution.

When asked if the current situation would have an impact on the administration’s decision on whether sanctions should apply to India for its acquisition of the S-400 missile systems, Lu said that he would not prejudge the President or Secretary Blinken’s decision, but emphasised that India was a critical security partner and that the US was in the process of carefully studying if the defence technology that it shared with India could be adequately safeguarded.

India’s China complications

With senators acknowledging that India remained at the frontlines of Chinese aggression, Lu said that China continues to engage in provocative behaviour against India, referring to making a regimental commander engaged in the Galwan clash a torchbearer in the Olympics, publication of maps that includes territory in the “Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh”, and renaming Indian cities.

Responding to the criticism that the current administration had “deprioritised” the security element of Quad and diluted its focus on China, Lu said that, as someone who had sat in on every session of the recent Quad ministerial meet in Melbourne, countering China remained a key focus of the grouping, through cooperating in defence, security, and even Covid-19 vaccines. He also mentioned the possibility of expanding Quad, at the working group level, by including countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore.

Kashmir and Indian democracy

On Kashmir, the US official said some promises had been kept and some hadn’t, with Lu noting Delhi’s outreach to Kashmiri politicians, visits by cabinet ministers, and restoration of 4G connection, but adding that India was yet to hold elections in Kashmir and there has been detention of journalists. Lu said that while terror groups still operated in Pakistan and it was yet to dismantle the terror infrastructure, cross border insurgency had fallen sharply in the past two years and Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had taken credit for this in a meeting with Lu.

On the state of Indian democracy, Lu said that the US was monitoring reports of discrimination against Muslim minorities and crackdown on free speech, but also praised the robustness of Indian electoral democracy, and pointed to the current round of state elections underway. He said that his assessment was Prime Minister Narendra Modi still retained a high degree of support at home, and the Congress was in the process of finding its identity in terms of leadership and message.

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