Biden, Modi have ‘candid exchange’ on Russia

President Biden held a “candid exchange of views” on Monday in an hourlong virtual call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to a US senior official.

India has continued to buy Russian oil as the US and other nations have sanctioned Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The official, during a National Security Council briefing following the meeting, characterized the conversation as “warm and productive” despite the differences.

The official suggested that India could easily cut off Russian oil with few repercussions for its economy if it wished – unlike countries such as Germany that are much more dependent on Russian energy.

“We know that India is not a major consumer of Russian oil. Its current imports are about one to 2 percent of its total energy imports, ”the official said. “We’ve been very clear that we’ve been able to ban oil and LNG and coal imports from Russia, but other countries have to make their own choices.”

The official also said the administration does not want to see India “accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy.”

The official said “India will make its own decisions” when pressed on whether Biden brought up India’s neutral stance on Russia’s invasion.

The meeting between the two leaders comes as India is coming under pressure from the US and Western countries to take a tougher position with Russia, a country with which it has long had strong ties.

The pressure has intensified amid growing reports of crimes against civilians committed by Russian troops, including in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.

India has notably refrained from vocally condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and most recently abstained from voting to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council at the United Nations.

Modi ahead of the meeting told reporters that India was “very worried” about the reports of atrocities in Bucha and condemned the killings while calling for an independent inquiry.

“We have also emphasized the importance of the security of civilians in Ukraine and the unhindered supply of humanitarian assistance to them,” Modi said.

The meeting took place ahead of the US-India two plus two ministerial summit that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are holding with their Indian counterparts this week.

At the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Jen Psaki said the call was “constructive” and “direct” without being “adversarial.”

“At the same time, on this call what the president did was consistent with what our deputy national security adviser did during his visit just a few weeks ago, was to make clear what the impact of the course of our sanctions would be. We expect everybody to abide by those, and while India only imports about 1-2 percent of its energy from Russia, we also made clear and the president made clear that we would be happy to help them in diversifying this as well, ”Psaki said .

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