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The U.S. and India — democracies and friends — agree to disagree on the Ukraine war

President Biden meets virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington on Monday.
Carolyn Kaster
President Biden meets virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington on Monday.

Updated April 12, 2022 at 1:21 PM ET

India, the world's largest democracy, has not yet condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine — and the U.S. wants to change that.

President Biden tried to lobby for India's support during a virtual summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their Indian counterparts.

Here's what to know about the context and takeaways from those discussions.

Why has India remained neutral so far?

Modi condemned the civilian killings in Ukraine on Monday, but didn't say who was responsible.

On the one hand, India shares democratic values with the U.S. On the other hand, India doesn't always trust the West. India has a colonial past, it was nonaligned during the Cold War, and it wants to make its own decisions. And it also buys a lot of weapons, fertilizer and oil from Russia.

It's also worried that if it alienates Russia, it could push Russia closer to China.

What is the U.S. doing to try to change India's stance?

A U.S. deputy national security adviser visited India a few weeks ago and warned of consequences for countries that circumvent Western sanctions on Russia. But the White House is also careful to say it respects India's decisions and doesn't want to tell it what to do.

In their public comments yesterday, Biden and Modi spoke about friendship and shared values. But a White House official said afterward that during their private meeting, Biden asked Modi not to accelerate purchases of Russian oil.

In other words, the U.S. is not asking India to cut off Russian oil completely — just not to increase its reliance on it.

What is India saying?

Essentially, India listened and made no promises. Indian officials have bristled at the topic, because Europe buys much more Russian oil and gas than it does.

"Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon," India's external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, said at a press conference on Monday. "So you might want to think about that."

Modi and Biden also talked about defense cooperation and trade between their nations and are meeting in Tokyo next month with leaders from Japan and Australia to talk about countering China.

While the U.S. would like to hear India condemn Russia, it also needs its help on China — so it may have to pick its battles.

The digital version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.