Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, & Australian PM Scott Morrison

The efforts of President Joe Biden to muddy the strategic waters of India, to delight the Chinese by making the Quad condemn not China but Russia in its statement, were resisted by India

New Delhi: US President Joe Biden’s moves on Ukraine have shifted American focus back from China to Russia. In contrast, at Thursday’s Quad meeting, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it clear that the Quad should not be distracted from its primary duty of ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. In such a context, the efforts of President Joe Biden in particular to muddy the strategic waters of India, to delight the Chinese by making the Quad condemn not China but Russia in its statement, were resisted by India. This caused dismay in Biden and those around him, who sought to divert the attention of the Quad from China to Russia by condemning President Vladimir Putin in the joint statement. This, while they were simultaneously wooing President Xi Jinping to get him to make Putin withdraw from Ukraine without achieving his objectives.

The moment the message from Washington came for an emergency meeting of the Quad heads of state and government on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately understood what was behind it. He figured out what US President Joe Biden was planning to achieve through this hurriedly convened virtual meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. “The PM immediately spoke to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, after which a strategy to derail Biden’s plan was in place in no time,” top official sources told The Sunday Guardian.

Biden’s strategy behind holding the Quad meet was to play the China card to push India into aligning with the US approach on the Russian military operations against Ukraine. With the two other members of the group, Australia and Japan already endorsing the US line on the Ukraine conflict, Biden wanted to put pressure on India, the remaining Quad nation, to join them in condemning Russia publicly for its military action. Hours ahead of the summit, PM Modi was ready with his strategy and statements, with the clear objective that the Ukraine problem would not be allowed to be Quad’s focus at any cost. That Quad should remain focused on its core agenda of welfare and development in the Indo-Pacific and that was the first clear statement that was given by PM Modi. “While President Biden wanted India to unequivocally criticise Russia, PM Modi set the tone of humanitarian implications of the situation there,” sources said. “The humanitarian issues raised by PM Modi were such that President Biden could not skip them in the presence of the Australian and Japanese PMs during the summit,” sources said. “Human rights are an issue with which the western countries including the US are obsessed with. With this in view, President Biden couldn’t possibly sidestep the matter,” said a diplomat. “That India has been highlighting the nuclear risk linked to the war cannot be ignored by the world community,” he said.

“When PM Modi reiterated the importance of adhering to the UN Charter, international law and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, it was a message to the US and other western powers as well and not only to the countries that are engaged in the war,” sources at MEA said.

Sources told The Sunday Guardian that “The Biden administration was given the clear message that the Quad forum should not be misused to achieve personal petty goals.” “Such a narrow mindset will then give China the much-needed opportunity to intensify its misinformation campaign against the forum,” sources said.

Second, PM Modi remained firm on India’s stand that the Russia-Ukraine crisis should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, and not through war. But another important message, at the same time, was that India was not taking the Ukraine situation any lightly and was doing its best to ensure that the war ceased and human lives were saved. “PM Modi’s message was loud and clear that when western powers advocate human rights issues, they should appreciate India’s stand against war and that Ukraine and Russia should return to diplomacy,” sources said.

Senior diplomats told this newspaper that PM Modi managed to convey the message to President Biden that aggression in the Indo-Pacific is what forms the core agenda of the Quad, and it should remain the focus of the group, not Ukraine.

What is worth mentioning is that EAM Jaishankar has always made it a point to see that Quad does not turn its focus to Ukraine, instead of China and Indo-Pacific. During the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Melbourne, S. Jaishankar had persuaded all his counterparts to keep their focus on the Indo-Pacific, saying that China was a bigger challenge than the Ukraine crisis. That’s exactly what PM Modi underlined during the Quad virtual summit.

According to sources, PM Modi asked Indian diplomats to impress upon the Biden administration that the safe evacuation of not only Indians but other nationals also from the conflict-torn Ukraine could be possible due to India’s effective diplomacy with the help of all the parties including Russia. At UNSC, Russian envoy to UN, Vassily Nebenzia clearly said that “we are ready to evacuate Indian students as well as other foreign nationals from Ukraine. And for this to be a possibility, Russia is announcing a ceasefire for a brief period.” This is being seen as a result of relentless diplomatic efforts by India.