India’s ‘complex’ ties with Russia, Indo-Pacific security to figure during Blinken visit to India
Washington hopes that India will use its influence to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the top US diplomat for South Asia. United States Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu said on Friday, “It is our hope that India will use that influence with Russia to support an end to this conflict”, and as Indian External Affairs Minister S. “Jaishankar has said, end to the conflict according to the principles of the UN Charter: territorial integrity and sovereignty”.
Briefing reporters on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to New Delhi next Wednesday for the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, he said that India has had “long, complex relations with Russia”. It is unlikely that India is going to cut those ties anytime soon, but Washington is talking to New Delhi about the role it can play to end the conflict, he said.
US Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs Ramin Tolui said the US would do everything it can to make India’s presidency of the G20 a success.
“There is no shortage of common challenges, and we want to deepen our partnership with other G20 countries to address these challenges”, he added.
While he is in India, Blinken will also participate in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Quad, the four-nation group of India, the US, Japan and Australia.
“What will be even more interesting is immediately following that ministerial meeting, the Secretary will participate in a panel at the Raisina Dialogue”, Lu said. “I’m not aware that they’ve ever had an hour-long public event where the four foreign ministers have had a chance to talk about the Quad, and to demonstrate how it is getting tangible and concrete things done in the Indo-Pacific”, he said.
Besides Jaishankar and Blinken, Penny Wong from Australia and Hayashi Yoshimasa from Japan will be at the session.
Lu said that at the forum organised by India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation, the ministers will talk about the Quad’s humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, efforts to improve security in the Indo-Pacific and the achievements on vaccine diplomacy, and about the investment forum.
During their bilateral meeting Jaishankar and Blinken “will talk about our strategic partner partnership but really focus on how we’re working together in the Asian Quad, in the G20, what we’re doing on defence cooperation, and the Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies that is being run out of the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office”, Lu said.
Asked about the future of India’s defence relations with Moscow, Lu said, “What we know globally is Russia is having a really difficult time fulfilling orders for military contracts. We see plenty of evidence of that around the world”. “And if you look at press reporting, I think you can see the Indians are also wondering whether Russia will be able to provide for its defences”, he added.
In explaining India’s response to the Ukraine conflict on which India has been reluctant to join in publicly condemning Russia outright, Lu saw a fine nuance in the use of the “war” for the conflict that signals a more definitive stand against Moscow.
He said, “India uses the word ‘war’ all the time. You heard Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi say, in August, ‘Now is not the era for war’. You heard External Affairs Minister Jaishankar say in September, at the UN, that we need this war to end through diplomatic means and along the principles of the UN Charter, reinforcing territorial integrity and sovereignty. And then, in November you heard the Indian Defence Minister (Rajnath Singh) say the threat to use nuclear weapons by Russia is totally unacceptable and at odds with the basic tenets of humanity.”
“So, I don’t particularly see a reluctance to use the word ‘war.’ I think they use it all the time”, he added.
(This article appeared in South Asia Monitor on Feb. 26, 2023)