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Biden urges Modi not to step up Indian use of Russian oil

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden asked India’s Narendra Modi on Monday not to accelerate the buying of Russian oil as the U.S. and other nations try to cut off Moscow’s energy income following the invasion of Ukraine. The Indian prime minister made no public commitment to refrain from Russian oil, a source of tension with the U.S.

Meeting by video call, Biden told Modi that the U.S. could help India diversify its sources of energy, according to press secretary Jen Psaki. Even though India receives little of its oil from Russia, it stepped up recently with a major purchase as other democracies are trying to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The president also made clear that he doesn’t believe it’s in India’s interest to accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy or other commodities,” Psaki said.

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At a separate State Department news conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar pointedly suggested that Europe, not India, be the focus of Washington’s concern about energy purchases from Russia.

“I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon,” he said.

While Biden and Modi ended their session with Biden saying they committed to strengthening their relationship, White House officials could not say if India stood with them in fully condemning Putin, saying the choice ultimately rested with Modi’s government. The two leaders will meet in person May 24 in Tokyo for a summit of the Quad, a coalition that also includes Australia and Japan.

At the State Department news conference, Blinken appeared to seek to cajole India into taking a stronger stance on the conflict in Ukraine, appealing to the country’s interest in upholding the international rules-based order and pointing out that resource-stretched Indians may be affected by both energy and food shortages caused by the war.

“Russia’s aggression stands in stark contrast to the vision that the United States and India share for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and Russia’s actions are having a profound impact not just in Europe and Ukraine, but around the world, for example, causing food insecurity and rising prices,” Blinken told reporters after the meetings concluded.

India’s neutral stance in the war has raised concerns in Washington and earned praise from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who lauded India this month for judging “the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way.”

Modi on Monday called the situation in Ukraine “very worrying,” and he noted that an Indian student lost his life during the war. He said he has spoken with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealing to both of them for peace. India has condemned the killings uncovered in the city of Bucha and has called for an independent investigation.

Also Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met in person with Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Austin appealed to India to act together with fellow democracies, a form of government based on the popular consent of the people that stands in contrast to autocracies such as China and Russia.

“Now more than ever, democracies must stand together to defend the values that we all share,” Austin said.

India has refrained from some efforts to hold Russia accountable for its invasion. India abstained when the U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations that the U.S. and Ukraine have called war crimes.

The vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions.

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