India’s foreign and defence ministers will hold talks with their American counterparts in a “2 plus 2” format in Washington on Monday amid speculation that once-warming ties between the countries have now been set adrift by their differing views on the Ukraine-Russia war. The meeting between Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken comes amid signals from Washington that it views New Delhi’s position on the war as less than ideal. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold virtual talks before the 2-plus-2 meeting. Biden told a US meeting of business leaders on March 21 that among the four so-called Quad nations – the US, India, Australia and Japan – India’s position was “somewhat shaky” in terms of dealing with Moscow’s aggression. Foreign policy analysts said Monday’s face-to-face talks would allow both sides a chance to exchange frank views on the conflict, while also affirming that their bilateral ties were, overall, on a firm footing. “This is a great platform to signal bilateral ties are on track and moving forward,” said Arun Singh, a former Indian ambassador to the US. But ahead of the talks India also made it clear it was in no mood to dilute its ties with Russia to strengthen relations with the US. While the US does not want any rapid acceleration of Indian oil imports from Russia, India has maintained that its legitimate energy transactions should not be politicised. “Our focus is to maintain and stabilise our established economic relations with Russia,” Arindam Bagchi, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman, said on Thursday, according to The Times of India . Bagchi added that India has been very open about its ties with Russia. India began meeting the US in the “2 plus 2” format in 2018 and has a similar format for discussions with Japan, Australia and Russia. Monday’s talks will be the first such talks between India and the US since the Ukraine-Russia war began. “ India will be able to explain that it is not endorsing Russian military action and the violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Arvind Gupta, director of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank. India and Russia have categorised their ties as a “special and privileged strategic relationship”, and Moscow is the Asian power’s main weapons supplier. Observers say it will make little sense for Delhi to alter this relationship as it continues to be locked in a now two-year-long border stand-off with China. Also likely to be in focus during the talks are Indian concerns that America’s preoccupation with Ukraine might make it de-prioritise the Indo-Pacific region, where China’s rising assertiveness has concerned Delhi and other regional players. Gupta said it was important for Washington to empathise with India’s position on the war amid indications that some of India’s moves, including its abstentions on UN votes censuring Russia, were being interpreted as “pro-Western”. However, last month Delhi abstained on a resolution tabled by Russia on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, and it recently joined other nations in “unequivocally” condemning killings in the Ukrainian town of Bucha. Images of mass graves and the remains of civilians strewn on the streets in the Kyiv suburb have shocked the world. India’s decision to continue to buy Russian oil, and indications from the US that it is displeased by this, could also be a topic of discussion during Monday’s talks, if chatter among Delhi’s foreign policy commentators is anything to go by. Some, like former Indian diplomat Talmiz Ahmad, have zoomed in on US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh’s comments in a March 31 briefing in Delhi, when he said there would be “consequences to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill” Western sanctions on Moscow. That remark was read as a less-than-oblique threat to India by commentators like Ahmad. “I was appalled to hear the US official’s comments,” he said. How the Ukraine crisis is hurting China’s soft power ambitions He said Singh’s remarks were “ill-advised” and India’s stance on Russia “will not change under threat of an American official”. The storm generated by Singh’s comments during his visit to India has somewhat died down, though, and the likes of Washington-based observer Milan Vaishnav thought both nations would be looking to use Monday’s talks to signal that bilateral ties were on the right path. On Thursday Bloomberg also said sources familiar with the upcoming meeting believed India was optimistic about the talks despite the Biden administration’s vocal rebukes. How the war in Ukraine has made the world a more dangerous place Recent public statements from Washington warning India about consequences for buying weapons and discounted oil from Russia are contrary to private discussions between the two sides, the sources said, asking for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. “The Biden administration as a whole has been very balanced in its public posture towards India. In fact, both governments have tried to block out the noise from Twitter warriors and focus on behind-the-scenes diplomacy,” said Vaishnav, director of the South Asia programme with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank. UN General Assembly suspends Russia from top human rights body over Ukraine India should explain its stance “not only to the Biden administration but also to members of the US Congress and American opinion makers”, said C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Delhi. For its part, the US has sought to indicate that there is plenty of common ground between it and India despite their differences over the Ukraine conflict. In an interview this month with the Hindustan Times , US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Donald Lu, acknowledged that India and the US approached the Ukraine crisis from “different perspectives”. But, indicative of the common ground between both sides, he said joint initiatives in space, higher education, defence capabilities and maritime issues could also be announced at Monday’s Washington meeting. Many Indian policy planners increasingly believe that the two sides should highlight the ideas and views they have in common rather than focus on their differences. “These mutual interests transcend any ripples that the current situation may have caused,” said P.S. Raghavan, a former Indian ambassador to Russia, adding that “mature countries focus on their long-term strategic interests”. Woman raped by Russian soldiers says ‘I don’t want to live’ He said the US is India’s most important bilateral partner in many areas, from politics and trade to technology and defence. The two sides’ perspectives also converge on the strategic challenges posed by China, particularly in the maritime domain, Raghavan said. “The 2-plus-2 meeting will be an important opportunity to synchronise our strategic compass,” the ex-diplomat added. Raghavan, who previously served as chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) said it was “important to remember the US also has stakes in this bilateral relationship”. Ukraine war: India to face significant cost if aligned with Russia, US warns Vaishnav said that while there are some who are disappointed with India’s ambivalence, the bipartisan consensus on India in Washington remained strong. The Biden administration was likely to use Monday’s talks “as an opportunity to try and build stronger bridges with India at a time when the latter might be seeking to diversify its defence and military partnerships”, he said. Vaishnav added that India’s reliance on US arms might increase if Washington hardened its position on strategic partners purchasing Russian weapons. US, allies add Russia sanctions after Bucha massacre; ‘genocide’, says Johnson India is said to be seeking assurances from the US that it will be granted a waiver from censure under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act over Delhi’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defence missile systems. India signed that deal with Moscow in 2018 but deliveries only began late last year. A waiver from Washington is considered far more likely if India cuts back on such arms imports from Russia. Russia, India to discuss Swift alternative for rouble payments during Lavrov visit There has been a significant decrease in Russia’s share of the Indian arms market in the last 20 years. Russia, which accounted for 88 per cent of Indian arms imports in 2002, saw its share decline to 35 per cent by 2020. Over the same period, the US and its allies saw their share rise to 65 per cent. Vaishnav said he thought “supply issues India is likely to experience vis-à-vis Russia as sanctions continue” will ultimately strengthen US-India ties. But other observers feel India will continue to balance and maintain its ties with both the US and Russia. The US is an essential and indispensable partner in India’s modernisation, while Russia remains an important partner for geopolitical and military reasons, they said.