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India built ties with Russia out of necessity: US

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There is growing strategic convergence between India and the US and China is a “big part of that”, and while Russia was a partner due to necessity for India in the past, the US is now willing to be a partner of choice at this moment of “strategic inflection”, secretary of state Antony J Blinken has said.

In a testimony to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, while outlining the State Department’s priorities and budget requirements, Blinken said that the India-US partnership has the potential to be one of the “most important and foundational partnerships” in the future.

Providing an overview of the administration’s efforts to deepen ties, the secretary of state said that President Joe Biden had spent a “lot of time” directly engaging with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian leadership. “We have energised the Quad… This has been a very important vehicle for strengthening our collaboration across a whole variety of fronts. I have spent a lot of time with Indian counterpart.”

Blinken, once again, allayed the apprehensions about the impact of the different positions adopted by Washington and Delhi to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, built on the historical context of ties, and offered a hint of future collaboration. “This is a moment of, I think, strategic inflection. A number of countries are now relooking at some of their relationships and some of their interests, particularly when it comes to their relationship with Russia. In the case of India, there is a relationship that goes back decades. Russia was, for India, out of necessity, a partner of choice when we were not in a position to be a partner. Now we are. We are investing in that effort.”

While India has refrained from criticising Russia directly, it has consistently underlined the need for cessation of hostilities, need for return to diplomacy and the importance of the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.

Blinken was responding to a comment made by Senator William Hagerty — a former US ambassador to Japan — who had said, “What I see before us is something I am certain is very frustrating in the short term when we have our differences and you deal with that everyday. But in the long-term, the strategic partnership that we have with India I think poses the opportunity to do more good in the 21st century.”

Blinken said he agreed with the Senator, adding that there was “a growing strategic convergence between US and India”. “And China is a big part of that. This is a major area of focus for the administration and for me to strengthen and build on that partnership going forward.”

Acknowledging the role of past US administrations in deepening ties, the secretary of state said, “This has actually been a success story over multiple administration, going back to the end of Clinton administration through the Bush administration, particularly with the peaceful nuclear cooperation which, by the way, President, then Senator Biden helped shepherd through this institution, through the Trump administration and prior to that Obama administration and now ours.”

In 2000, Bill Clinton’s historic visit to India qualitatively changed ties after the chill due to India’s nuclear tests. The George W Bush administration invested its political capital at home and diplomatic capital abroad to push through the nuclear deal with India. Barack Obama visited India twice, including as a Republic Day guest in 2015 when the two countries unveiled their first joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region – a precursor to the common approach to the Indo-Pacific.

Donald Trump’s administration played a key role in identifying China as the key threat, making Indo-Pacific a priority area and giving a new lease of life to Quad. And the Biden administration has elevated Quad, given it a deeper institutional shape, and now managed differences with India on Russia without letting it affect the wider bilateral relationship as indicated by Blinken’s remarks.

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