New York: The US remains hopeful that it can have policy alignment with India “to the maximum extent possible” on sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior US official.
“India is our friend, India is our partner and we share interests, and we share core principles that are at stake in this conflict,” the official said on Wednesday.
“We’ve had extensive discussions about ways to further our cooperation on global food security, on global energy supplies, and certainly in terms of recognising that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s brutality affects all of us,” the official who briefed reporters on condition of not being identified.
The official was answering a reporter’s question on India and the latest set of sanctions imposed on Russia and how far it has come towards “convergence” with the US on the matter.
“The geopolitical implications of Russia’s actions do have ripple effects,” the official said.
“And, of course, we remain hopeful that we can have alignment to the maximum extent possible,” the official added.
A test of the degree of alignment in the approaches of the two countries can come as early as Thursday when the United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote on a US proposal to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.
On Monday, India made its strongest statement so far on Ukraine with a condemnation of the atrocities committed allegedly by Russian troops withdrawing from Bucha and calling for an independent investigation.
Responding to the images of killings and atrocities against civilians in Bucha, the US announced a fresh set of sanctions targeting Russia’s largest financial institution Sberbank, and Alfa Bank, as well as the family members of Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other officials.
There’s an obsession reflective of what can be described as the racially differentiated approach of the US liberal mainstream media to sanctions and India.
In a pointed example, NBC network correspondent Andrea Mitchell in an interview broadcast on Wednesday asked Blinken, “Why aren’t we sanctioning China and India” because they “keep buying fuel from Russia and fuelling this war, helping to fund Putin’s war”.
And while she admitted that “there are big loopholes and Europe still is buying natural gas and still will for another year,” she did not suggest sanctioning European countries for buying Russian energy as she did for India and China.
Blinken did not reply to her question about sanctions on India and China.
At the White House briefing by President Joe Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki, a reporter asked about “pressuring” India to not work with Russia or give it aid.
Psaki pointed out that India is importing only between 1 to 2 per cent of its oil from Russia and said, “We stand ready to support India as — in any efforts to diversify its imports and serve as a reliable supplier.”
About the part of the reporter’s question whether the absence of an ambassador was impacting how the US can pressure India, Psaki said, “We also engage with countries through a range of channels.”
She referred to the recent visit to New Delhi by Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh, who she said conveyed “clearly what the consequences of violating sanctions would be and what the mechanisms are”.
He also made it “clear that we do not think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy and other commodities, even as obviously those decisions are made by individual countries,” she said.
The nomination of Eric Garcetti to be the ambassador to India has hit a roadblock in the Senate, which has to approve the appointment of envoys.
Because of questions if the Los Angeles mayor was aware of allegations of sexual harassment against a close aide and did not take action, two Republican senators have blocked the nomination from coming to the full Senate for a vote even though it has been approved by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
In the evenly divided Senate, Biden’s Democratic Party will need the support of all its 50 senators to OK the nomination without the backing of any Republican senators.
But some Democrats are hesitating to declare support for Garcetti.
Psaki reiterated that Biden stood by him.
New Delhi is “an incredibly important diplomatic position”, she said.
The senior administration official’s mention of “extensive discussions about ways to further our cooperation on global food security” opens another avenue of cooperation between the US and India — and possibly the Quad — on a global problem.
Exports from the world’s largest wheat exporter Russia and the fifth-largest exporter Ukraine have been disrupted by the invasion, leading to warnings from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that a food crisis affecting especially developing nations is in the offing because the availability of wheat and its prices will be affected.
India is the world’s second-largest wheat producer after China, but its exports have been small — about 5.5 million tonnes last year, according to the US Agriculture Department data
While its domestic consumption is big, India is sitting on a huge stockpile of wheat estimated at about 100 million tonnes — far more than a safety net buffer would require and New Delhi could step in to fill some of the global food gap.
As a model for this, India provided Covid-19 vaccines around the world, especially to developing countries and under a joint humanitarian programme of the Quad — the Indo-Pacific group of India, the US, Japan and Australia — India is to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine for distribution to developing countries.