‘Not Like Flipping A Light Switch’: US On India Potentially Reorienting Its Foreign Policy Away From Russia

‘Not Like Flipping A Light Switch’: US On India Potentially Reorienting Its Foreign Policy Away From Russia
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price | Image sources: Freepik/The Indian Express

On Wednesday, the United States, when asked about India’s stance amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said that since the country has a decades-long history with Moscow, it is going to be a “long-time proposition” for New Delhi to reorient its foreign policy away from them. Furthermore, the US insisted that it is not as easy as “flipping a light switch”, while also indicating that they are working “very closely” with India via the Quad alliance and other forums. 

During a press conference, when asked about an increase in India’s imports of Russian oil and fertilisers, while potentially buying Russian air defence systems, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “It is not for me to speak about another country’s foreign policy. But what I can do is point out what we have heard from India.” Reportedly, these remarks were also made in response to a question pertaining to Washington’s “failure” to isolate Russia.

He added, “We have seen countries around the world speak clearly, including with their votes in the UN General Assembly against Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But we also recognise, as I was saying just a moment ago, that this is not flipping a light switch.”

“This is something that, especially for countries that have historical relationships with Russia. Relationships that, as is the case with India, extend back decades, it is going to be a long-term proposition to re-orient foreign policy away from Russia,” said Price. However, the spokesperson also indicated that the State Department is working very closely with India bilaterally, as well as through the Quad, saying that India has only put into practice what should be the “inviolable principle of state sovereignty”. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led several nations, including the US and others in Europe to impose heavy sanctions on Moscow, since February. Meanwhile, despite criticism from the West, India has raised its oil imports from Russia, and continues to engage with the country on several issues. Reportedly, in May, Moscow surpassed Saudi Arabia to become the country’s second-biggest supplier of crude.

On the other hand, India has asserted that its import of Russian oil will be guided by its energy and security needs. On Tuesday, while defending New Delhi’s import of Russian oil, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said that when oil and gas prices are “unreasonably high” currently, it is “my moral duty” to ensure the best deal for Indians, most of whom cannot afford these rates. 

“We have been very honest about our interests. I have a country with a per capita income of $2,000. These aren’t people who can afford higher energy prices. It is my obligation… my moral duty… to ensure that I get them the best deal I can,” said Dr Jaishankar during an interaction with the Indian community in Bangkok, Thailand. Furthermore, the EAM also explained why the country’s traditional supplier lot has shrunk. “At this time, oil and gas prices are unreasonably high. A lot of traditional suppliers to India are also diverting them to Europe because Europe is buying or can buy less oil and gas from Russia. So, Europe is also buying much more from the Middle East and from other sources that would have supplied to India,” he detailed.

Explaining New Delhi’s position on the issue, the EAM said that given the current situation, every country will try to ensure the best deal to “cushion high energy prices”, which is what India is doing. He added that many countries like the US have accepted India’s position on the matter. “…And, once you lay it out very openly and honestly, people accept it. They may not always appreciate it, but as long as you have laid out your interests in a direct manner, my sense is that the world accepts that as a kind of reality,” said Dr Jaishankar. 

Notably, hours after the minister’s remarks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, while addressing an online press briefing of South Asian reporters said that Kyiv expected a “stronger practical support from India”. He further added how as two democracies, Ukraine and India “have to stand by each other”. Kuleba went on to allege that the Russian oil that India has been importing has “Ukrainian blood”, also saying, “We know that India is buying Russian crude oil. We are not surprised by that.”

“When India purchases Russian crude oil with high discounts from Russia, they have to understand this discount is paid with Ukrainian blood. Ukrainian killed, tortured, raped people with destroyed cities and towns. Every barrel of Russian crude oil delivered to India has a good portion of Ukrainian blood in it,” he added. “Everything else is the decision that governments make to make their own economic benefits,” said Kuleba.

He continued, “Throughout human history, in every conflict, every war, there are those who suffer from the war, there are those who make money from the war.” The foreign minister also highlighted his role in the evacuation efforts of over 22,000 Indian students from Ukraine during the initial days of the conflict. “We were always very friendly to India… I remember the first days of the war, when one of the tasks I had to handle was the evacuation of foreign students from Ukraine and there were plenty of Indian students who always considered Ukraine as their second home and whom we always considered as part of our society,” said Kuleba. 

US’ Remarks On The Russia, China And India Military Exercise

The US State Department spokesperson also responded to a series of questions regarding the multilateral joint military exercise, which reportedly includes Russia, China, and several other countries like India and Pakistan. “Countries routinely make their own sovereign decisions,” said Price. 

He added, “It is absolutely their right to do so regarding what, if any, military exercises to take part in. I’ll also note that most of the participating countries also routinely participate in a wide array of military exercises and exchanges with the United States as well.” Price went on to clarify that the US does not read anything into their engagements in this activity.

“Now, the broader point is that we have seen a burgeoning relationship, including in the security realm, between the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and Russia. We’ve seen a burgeoning relationship between Russia and Iran for example, and we have made public elements of that,” said Price. Furthermore, he indicated that this is a point of concern because of the vision that countries like China and Russia have for the international order, which is starkly at odds with the “liberal vision” that Washington and its allies and partners have for the international system. 

Price noted, “It is starkly at odds with the underpinnings of the international system that has been in place for some eight decades following the end of the second World War, a system that has undergirded unprecedented levels of stability, security, prosperity across the world that includes including Europe, Indo-Pacific and everywhere in between.” 

“It is the difference between profoundly liberal order and a profoundly illiberal order in which all of the principles that the US, that our allies, that our partners, that the United Nations, and that, by the way, countries like Russia and China have previously stood for and in some cases still profess to stand for,” said the spokesperson. He added that it is a vision that is “profoundly opposed” to many of those principles.

In relation to US’ engagements with China, Price said that the US has been “very clear” with Beijing regarding the consequences. “We have yet to see any change in the PRC’s behaviour indicating that they are moving in that direction,” he added.

These remarks were made in light of the statement released by the Chinese defence ministry on August 17, which indicated that the week-long multi-country drill will be held in Russia between August 30 and September 5. Led by Moscow, the annual ‘Vostok’ (East) exercises will include troops from India, Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other countries besides China.

“In accordance with the annual plan for cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries and the bilateral agreements, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) will soon delegate and send part of its forces to Russia for participation in the Vostok-2022 exercise,” read the statement. 

This exercise is also being held against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and will be closely watched globally. Notably, there have been no official remarks made by the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Indian Army has reportedly refused to comment on the upcoming drill. However, both the countries have previously sent troops for such exercises in line with the multilateral commitments to cooperate on defence and security issues, said people with knowledge of the matter.

“The aim is to deepen practical and friendly cooperation with the armies of participating countries, enhance the level of strategic collaboration among the participating parties, and strengthen the ability to respond to various security threats,” read the statement by the Chinese defence ministry. They also went on to clarify that this exercise is “unrelated to the current international and regional situation.”

The Russian government also confirmed the Vostok military exercise last month, without sharing any additional details. The statement reportedly indicated that Russian troops from the country’s eastern military district will take part in the drills, which will be held across 13 districts. “The drills will bring together the airborne forces, long-range and military transport aircraft and also military contingents of other countries,” read the statement, according to state-run Russian news agency TASS.

This military exercise will be the second that the Chinese and Russian troops will conduct this year. Notably, in May, during US President Joe Biden’s first visit to Asian countries after assuming office, the two countries conducted a 13-hour drill  – one of their largest joint air drills in the area since last year  – close to Japan and South Korea, forcing the countries to scramble their fighter jets in response.


Read more: India Criticises China And Pak’s Move To Involve Third Nations In ‘So-called CPEC’ Projects

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