The Security Council holds a meeting to address the attack of Ukraine at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Image Credit: AFP

"Democracies need to stand together and evolve their position vis-a-vis Russia because of the choices Putin has made….” This is what Victoria Nuland, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs told me in an interview to NDTV last week.

As one of the most senior US administration officials dealing with Russia, Nuland, who was on a visit to New Delhi, India, seemed to convey a sense of frustration in Washington regarding India’s approach to the Russian invasion.

Indeed, her comments to NDTV came hours after President Joe Biden said India’s position on Russia has been somewhat “shaky”.

Despite being a member of the Quad grouping - along with the US, Japan, and Australia - India has taken its own approach on Russia, leading to questions about whether there is an sense of disquiet within the alliance.

A peaceful way out

The US seems to have expressed it openly, but Australia has publicly stated that Quad countries understand India’s position and appreciate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been speaking to the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine to find a peaceful way out.

By now, India has abstained several times at the UN on resolutions condemning Russia’s action. As the conflict has dragged on, it has also become more vicious. Many countries had hoped this would lead to a change in India’s position.

There are some even in India’s foreign policy establishment who have questioned how the world’s largest democracy can take such an ambivalent position.

Yet while that may be true in an ideal world, India has to act in its own interests - which is exactly what other countries do as well.

It is all very well for America to lecture the world on democracy, but the US has not hesitated in doing business with autocracies when it suits them, even now.

As the US seeks alternative supplies of oil, with Russia being sidelined, efforts have been made to reach out to Venezuela among other countries.

America has in recent weeks approached president Nicolás Maduro...who faced economic sanctions from Washington in 2019..and was even accused of “narco-terrorism”.

Centrepiece of Biden administration

The contradiction between US foreign policy and democratic values is not new but it is President Biden, who has made a virtue about making democracy and human rights the centrepiece of his administration.

The United States abandoned the people of Afghanistan only months earlier..tmaking a hasty exit after a protracted war. Over the years the US has supported dictatorships in many parts of the world.

It has also engaged with Beijing and it has to, since China is the world’s second largest economy.

The fact is..foreign policy is dictated by the self-interest of nations..not by lofty ideals of democracy. But India too must think -- when it abstains even on a resolution regarding the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, should a major power take a moral stand?