Washington: India’s relationship with Russia was developed over decades at a time when the US was not able to be its partner, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said, as top officials of the Biden administration showed an understanding of New Delhi’s position on the Ukraine war and advocated stronger Indo-US ties.

There has been some disquiet in Washington over India’s position on the Ukraine crisis as well as its decision to procure discounted Russian oil.

Blinken’s comments came during a joint news conference with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin along with their Indian counterparts – External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh after the 2+2 Ministerial here on Monday.

“India’s relationship with Russia was developed over decades at a time when the United States was not able to be a partner to India. Times have changed,” Blinken told reporters.

“Today, we are able and willing to be a partner of choice with India across virtually every realm: commerce, technology, education and security. And that was very much the nature of the conversation that we had today. When it comes to oil purchases, sanctions, et cetera, I’d just note that there are carve-outs for energy purchases,” he said in response to a question.

The top US diplomat, however, cautioned the allies and partners of the US against the increase in buying Russian energy.

“Of course, we’re encouraging countries not to purchase additional energy supplies from Russia. Every country is differently situated, has different needs, requirements, but we’re looking to allies and partners not to increase their purchases of Russian energy,” he said.

During the virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden, the two leaders talked about ways of mitigating the profound impact that this is having on global food supplies and prices, commodity markets, and working together to achieve that.

“I would note India has made very strong statements in New York at the UN, the minister before the Indian Parliament, condemning the killing of civilians in Ukraine, calling for an independent investigation of these atrocities. And I would also note that India is providing significant humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine, notably medicines, which are very necessary and in real demand,” he said.

Blinken said India has to make its own decisions about how it approaches this challenge.

“We, as a general proposition, are consulting with all of our allies and partners on the consequences of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s war, the atrocities being committed against the people of Ukraine. In our judgment, it is important that all countries, especially those with leverage, press Putin to end the war,” he said.

Austin told reporters that Biden “truly values strong alliances and partnerships, like the one that they have with India”.

“And that’s really what today is all about. It’s about taking a strong relationship and making it even stronger, and working on those things that create interoperability and allow us to work together to promote the things that all of us have talked about. The issue of values is central to this relationship,” he said.

In response to another question, Blinken said that there is, of course, a long history and a long relationship between India and Russia, including when it comes to military equipment.

“That relationship took hold many years ago at a time when, as I said, we were not able to be a partner of India. We are now both able and willing to be such a partner, to be a security partner of choice for India. That’s one of the areas that we discussed in some detail today,” he said.

Unlike its Quad partner countries, India has not yet condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and it abstained from the votes at the UN platforms on the Russian aggression.

India has been pressing for an immediate cessation of violence in Ukraine and seeking a resolution of the crisis through diplomacy and dialogue.

Blinken said the US has not yet made any decision on potential sanctions or waivers to India under CATSAA law for its purchase of the S-400 missile defence system from Russia.

The US administration is required under its domestic law, Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) to impose sanctions on any country that has significant transactions with Iran, North Korea or Russia.

CAATSA is a tough US law that authorises the administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.

The White House echoed Blinken’s view earlier in the day.

In terms of military actions: So we have not made a decision about the waiver under CAATSA, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in response to a question.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that the US has a strong defence partnership with India.

We are going to continue to look for ways to deepen that defence partnership. India is an important partner in the region, in the Indo-Pacific region, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to improve that partnership, he said.

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