A senior White House official says India’s position at the United Nations over the crisis in Ukraine has been “unsatisfactory” but was also “unsurprising” given its historical relationship with Russia.
Mira Rapp-Hooper, director for the Indo-Pacific on the White House National Security Council, told an online forum hosted by Washington’s School of Advanced International Studies that India needed alternatives to continued close ties with Russia.
“I think we would certainly all acknowledge and agree that when it comes to votes at the UN, India’s position on the current crisis has been unsatisfactory, to say the least. But it’s also been totally unsurprising,” she said on Friday.
India has developed close ties with the United States in recent years and is a vital part of the Quad grouping aimed at pushing back against China. But it has a longstanding relationship with Moscow, which remains a major supplier of its defence equipment.
India has avoided condemning Russian actions in Ukraine and abstained in UN Security Council votes on the issue.
Rapp-Hooper said India had cleaved closer to Russia as a hedge as its relationship with China worsened, but it was thinking “long and hard” about its defence dependency on Russia.
“I think our perspective would be that the way forward involves keeping India close, thinking hard about how to present it with options, so that it can continue to provide for its strategic autonomy,” she said.
Even before the Ukraine crisis erupted, New Delhi upset Washington, DC with its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system, putting it at risk of US sanctions under a 2017 US law aimed at deterring countries from buying Russian military hardware.
Analysts say any sanctions against India could jeopardise US cooperation with New Delhi in the Quad forum with Japan and Australia aimed at countering China’s expanding influence.
Rapp-Hooper said Washington and its allies and partners needed to look at their supply chains and think about how they can help countries that may be considering how to replace Russian defence systems.
“We have a number of partners that have chosen to keep their chips in with Russia, in terms of their defence procurement, in part as a hedge against China, but who are now in a place of reconsidering the wisdom of those decisions,” she said.
“Not only will they need to make long-term decisions about how to potentially replace Russian systems in the immediate term, they will need to be able to get supplies and spare parts to be able to maintain their own militaries.”
Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden said only India among the Quad group of countries was “somewhat shaky” in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as India tries to balance its ties with Russia and the West.
While the other Quad countries – the US, Japan and Australia – have sanctioned Russian entities or people, India has not imposed sanctions or even condemned Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.
“In response to his aggression, we have presented a united front throughout the NATO and in the Pacific,” Biden told a business forum on Monday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Quad – with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of these – but Japan has been extremely strong, so is Australia in terms of dealing with Putin’s aggression.”