Biden to Modi: Buying more Russian oil is not in India’s interest

US officials say President Joe Biden has told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that buying more oil from Russia is not in India’s interest and could hamper the US response to the war in Ukraine.

Biden and Modi began an hour-long video call that US officials described as “warm” and “candid,” and publicly expressed their growing concern about the devastation inside Ukraine, particularly in Bucha, where many civilians have been killed.

An official said Biden stopped short of making a “concrete request” from Modi on Monday, noting that India had concerns about deepening relations between Russia and China.

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But he told Modi that India’s position in the world would not be enhanced by reliance on Russian energy sources, US officials said.

“The president has made it clear that it is not in their interests to increase this,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, at a press conference later on Monday, dismissed a question about India’s energy purchases from Russia, saying the focus should be on Europe and not India. “It is likely that our total purchases for this month will be less than what Europe does in the afternoon.”

Extensive talks between the world’s two largest democracies have taken place as the United States seeks more help from India in denouncing Russia and putting economic pressure on it for an invasion calling Moscow a “special military operation”.

“Recently, the news of the killing of innocent civilians in Bucha City has been very disturbing,” Modi said during a short segment of the open meeting to reporters. We immediately denounced him and demanded an independent investigation.”

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Modi also said he had suggested in recent talks with Russia that President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hold direct talks.

The South Asian country has tried to balance its relations with Russia and the West, but unlike other members of the Quartet – the United States, Japan and Australia – it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.

Biden recently said that only India of the Quartet was “a bit shaky” in acting against Russia.

India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the invasion in late February, after being tempted by deep cuts in the wake of Western sanctions on Russian entities. Data compiled by Reuters shows that compared to about 16 million barrels for the whole of last year.

Psaki did not reveal whether India had made any commitments on energy imports, but said Washington was ready to help the country diversify its energy sources.

Referring to Modi’s remarks on the war on Monday, Psaki said, “Part of our goal now is to build on that and encourage them to do more. That’s why it’s important to have conversations between a leader.”

“We haven’t asked India to do anything in particular,” a US official added. “India will issue its rulings” after a “very frank conversation,” the official said.

Talks took place in Washington on Monday between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Indian counterparts Jaishankar and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Blinken said India’s relations with Russia developed over decades at a time when the United States was not able to be India’s partner, but those times have since changed.

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“Today we are able and willing to be a preferred partner with India across almost every world,” Blinken told a joint news conference after the talks.

The Ministers said that India’s defense modernization needs were a major topic which the two sides discussed at length.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the two countries signed a bilateral agreement to support information exchange and cooperation in space.

Biden told Modi he was looking forward to seeing him in Japan for a four-way meeting “around May 24” and the two leaders also discussed a range of other issues, officials said.

(This story has been paraphrased to correct the word in the quote in paragraph 18 to “scientist”)

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Additional reporting by Humira Pamuk, Idris Ali, Daphne Psaledakis, Nandita Bose, Kanishka Singh, Doina Chiako and Andrea Shallal; Editing by Doina Chiaco, Alistair Bell and Howard Guller

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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