In the current geopolitical realities, India acts as not just a “great regional” power, but claims to be a truly great power on a global scale. It is noteworthy that both Moscow and Washington need effective relations with New Delhi.
For Russia, cooperation with India balances the growing influence of China in the region and within the SCO, despite trilateral cooperation within the RIC and close Russian-Chinese relations. India is also one of Russia’s key partners in the military-technical cooperation: over 30 years, the Indian side has acquired $70 billion worth of weapons from Russia. For the same reason, India itself does not join the anti-Russian sanctions.
An equally important area of Russian-Indian cooperation is energy. As is known, in 2021 Rosatom started construction of the 6th unit of the Kudankulam NPP. Moreover, with the onset of the current Ukrainian crisis, India increased the supply of Russian oil: in the context of India’s extreme dependence on imports of energy resources needed for power generation, as well as significant discounts on oil supplies, already in March 2022, the volume of Russian oil exports to India reached half of the volume delivered for the whole of 2021.
At the same time, in the conditions of the “main marathon of the century,” as Henry Kissinger the American-Chinese confrontation, India is a “valuable prize” for the United States as well. In many ways, the emerging configuration of the balance of power determines the US’s refusal to put any significant pressure on India. New Delhi’s position is “unsatisfactory but not surprising,” the White House said. As rightly pointed out Mira Rupp-Hooper, director of the NSC’s Indo-Pacific region, India needs alternatives to continuing close ties with Russia. As you know, India de facto avoids condemning Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and abstained from voting on this issue in the UN Security Council.
India stands as the cornerstone of the American Indo-Pacific concept with the potential to become a true great power. In the face of a global confrontation with Beijing, Washington views New Delhi as a hypothetical “pillar” and the most effective counterbalance to China in the region. Notably, the US State Department website states that the US “supports India’s emergence as a leading global power and key partner” in the Indo-Pacific region.
Washington’s policy of getting as close as possible to India began already in 2000, when the then US President Bill Clinton, despite his administration’s demands for New Delhi to join the CTBT, visited India for the first time since 1978. Moreover, already in 2001 George W. Bush lifted all sanctions against India imposed after the 1998 nuclear test. In 2005, the parties launched a dialogue to intensify cooperation in the field of energy security and defense; in 2005-2006 The United States actually recognized India’s nuclear status.
During the period of administration Barack Obama India not only became a member of the bilateral “strategic dialogue”, but also received the exclusive status of “main/leading security partner”. This rapprochement culminated in the administration’s launch Donald Trump dialogue in the 2+2 format and India’s entry into cooperation within the framework of QUAD.
India and the United States began to conduct both joint military exercises and exercises in the QUAD format in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal; the Indian side highlighted the importance of such exercises for the freedom of sea and air navigation in the Indian Ocean, which was directed against Chinese measures and rhetoric in the South Cathay Sea. It was Washington that supported the participation, albeit online, of New Delhi in the G-7 summit. In exchange for India’s refusal from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in 5G network trials, American giants Amazon, Google and Facebook (Meta) have invested billions of dollars in India’s IT sector.
The importance of India for the United States is also evidenced by the fact that, at the request of New Delhi, Washington excluded sanctions against the strategically important Iranian port of Chabahar, and then Bandar Abbas. These two ports are considered by India as the cornerstones of the North-South transport corridor strategy, which can and should become one of the alternatives to the Chinese One Belt, One Road project, which is in the interests of Washington.
In addition to the aforementioned 2+2 interaction, there are more than 30 other dialogue formats and working groups between India and the United States, covering issues from space and healthcare to energy and high technology. It is this importance of India that makes US strategists take a more flexible approach to New Delhi. A striking example of such a policy was the official appeal of senators M. Warner and D. Kornina in 2021 to the President Joseph Biden with a request not to impose sanctions against India for the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems.
The combination of these factors determines, on the one hand, the cautious position of both India itself and the United States. For New Delhi, with well-established military-technical and energy ties with Russia, cooperation with Moscow remains strategically important. The US cannot fail to understand that, despite two decades of intensive dialogue between Washington and Delhi, India has had close relations with Russia for generations, including through military-technical cooperation. At the same time, the American side opposes a sharp increase in India’s imports of Russian energy resources, offering its own services to diversify sources and suppliers of energy resources for the Indian side.
Deputy National Security Adviser to the President of the United States Daylip Singh, “friends do not put red lines on each other,” stressing that the US will not in any way ban or impede India’s imports of Russian hydrocarbons. Clearly, Washington is not prepared to sacrifice its privileged relationship with a future potential effective counterbalance to China for the sake of the Ukraine crisis.