Hours after US President Joe Biden's comment that India is an exception among Washington's allies with its "shaky" response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a top American official has said democracies need to "stand together and evolve their position".
President Biden on Monday made the comment while praising the US-led alliance, including NATO, the European Union and key Asian partners, for a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. But in the Quad - comprising India, Australia, Japan and US - India continues to buy Russian oil and has abstained from votes condemning Moscow at the UN.
"Democracies need to stand together and evolve their position vis-a-vis Russia because of the choices Putin has made. Democracies must stand against autocracies like Russia and China," US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, told NDTV in an exclusive interview, adding that this was conveyed to New Delhi.
The official, who has been talking to Indian counterparts in Delhi, said it was especially important for democracies to stand together now, when "autocracies like Russia and China are showing what a level of threat they can be to peace and security".
Ms Nuland said the Russian invasion was "vicious and inhumane", and hospitals and schools were being bombed.
"You see, in four weeks, on how vicious, violent and inhumane this invasion has been. Maternity hospitals, apartment buildings, orphanages, schools, opera houses hit and so in capitals around the world and in Washington DC, the sheer horror of this is having a profound effect," said the top official.
"I think there is an evolution in thinking going on here in India as well, and we see an evolution in position, but that's why it's important for us to talk."
As India "continues to evolve its position", US can offer help, she asserted.
"We know about the historic relationship and defence relationship between India and Russia at a time when the US was not prepared to have that kind of relationship. But times have changed now. They've changed in terms of the US and European willingness to be strong defence and security partners with India. We are doing more and more together in the Indo-Pacific. But times have also changed in terms of the level of brutality and violation of international humanitarian law that we are seeing," Ms Nuland said.
"We also talked about other opportunities for India to get what it needs including Soviet-era equipment potentially not from Russia itself. We have been supporting the sourcing of security needs for Ukraine along with our allies including Soviet-era equipment and those are the kind of things we can do with India as it continues to evolve its position."
The official said amount of energy that India buys from Russia is relatively small and "we have made it clear in our conversations that we understand that's not something India can cut off immediately".
When the US and other countries decided to cut off Russian oil imports completely, Washington did not expect "all democratic partners" to do so immediately, because of historical legacy, said the official.
"But what we do want to do is to work together to find alternative sources over time. And that's what we hope to do with India - whether it's with regard to the security relationship, the energy relationship... Because Russia has proven itself to be unreliable and to be a violator of international law," Ms Nuland told NDTV.