Due to the "problematic" position taken by India on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the India-US bilateral relationship is "entering uncharted territory", a top former official of the Trump Administration said on Wednesday.
Lisa Curtis, who was the Trump Administration's point person for India during his four years of presidency, made the remark cautioning that in the absence of a "course correction" by New Delhi, it would become increasingly difficult for the two countries to expand their defence and security ties beyond a certain level.
"I think the US India relationship is entering uncharted territory. The issue of India's close ties with Russia has always been an irritant in the US-India partnership. But with Russia's unjustified and unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country, there are expectations that India would adjust its relationship with Russia," Ms Curtis told news agency PTI in an interview.
Ms Curtis, who is now a senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Centre for a New American Security think tank, said February 24 which marks the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed everything in terms of what the expectations of the United States are of India moving forward.
"I think there has been some understanding of India's very difficult position that it can't change its reliance on Russian military equipment overnight and that India has real security interests that it needs to protect," she said.
"But I think moving forward, the expectation will be that there'll be some adjustment to India's relationship with Russia. Otherwise, I think it'll make it increasingly difficult for the US and India to really expand that defence and security partnership beyond a certain level," Ms Curtis added.
Ms Curtis, who served as Deputy Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for South and Central Asia from 2017 to 2021 under three successive National Security Advisers, praised the Biden Administration for its understanding of India's position on Russia.
The Biden administration has built on the momentum that the Trump administration had created with the US India relationship, she said, adding That has largely continued and has built on and extended the progress with the QUAD dialogue.
"The fact that there's been three QUAD summits - two virtual and one in person - since the Biden administration came into office is really quite remarkable. It shows that the QUAD has become a central pillar of the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy," she said.
One can see in the Indo-Pacific strategy document that the Biden administration places great value on its strategic partnership with India and it really views India as playing a central role in the Indo-Pacific strategy, she observed.
"I think that's why we are seeing the Biden administration show tremendous forbearance toward India's very disappointing response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration is taking the long view about India; recognises that India is important for standing up to Chinese aggression in the region," she said.
"The Biden Administration has been willing to accept some problematic positions that India has taken on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for instance, abstaining nine times in the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly, refusing to condemn Russia's really unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. So, I think that issue is straining the relationship to some degree," Curtis said.
"I personally have been quite struck with how patient the Biden administration is on India's failure to condemn Russia's actions when pretty much the rest of the world has been willing to do so," she said.
Responding to a question, Ms Curtis said it is in India's interest to speak up against Russia.
India, she noted, does not seem to recognise that Russia has aggressive behaviour in Europe, if the rest of the world was to just accept it, and not sanction Russia, not provide military equipment to the Ukrainian government, that would be sort of giving a green light to China to practice aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, whether that's toward Taiwan, or whether that's its disputed borders with India.
"I think that's where people are surprised that India is not connecting Russia's actions in Eastern Europe to what China could try to do in the Indo-Pacific region, which would have a direct bearing on India's own national security interests," Ms Curtis said.
"As Russia comes under crushing Western sanctions, which looks set to increase now that we've seen some of the civilian atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine, that Russia will be a reliable partner for India. It'll be increasingly difficult for India to receive sophisticated technology from Russia because Russia will be cut off from the rest of the world," she said.
Russia will also become more dependent on China, she said.
"Russia will be even more of a junior partner to China than it already is. Meaning that China will call the shots in that partnership. So if India is expecting that its lack of condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine is going somehow by its support from Russia, in its own border with China, I think it's mistaken," she said.
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