By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON: U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held virtual talks on Monday focused mainly on Ukraine, and Modi said he had suggested to Russia that President Vladimir Putin hold direct talks with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskiy.
The talks took place as the United States seeks more help from India in applying economic pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Viewing each other from video screens, Biden and Modi both expressed growing alarm at the destruction inside Ukraine, particularly in Bucha, where many civilians have been killed.
"Recently, the news of the killings of innocent civilians in the city of Bucha was very worrying. We immediately condemned it and have asked for an independent probe", Modi said.
Modi also told Biden he had suggested in recent conversations with Russia that Putin and Zelenskiy hold direct talks.
The United States has made clear it does not want to see an uptick in Russian energy imports by India.
Daleep Singh, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics, who visited India recently, has said the United States will not set any "red line" for India on its energy imports from Russia but does not want to see a "rapid acceleration" in purchases.
Lured by steep discounts following Western sanctions on Russian entities, India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the country invaded Ukraine in late February. That compared with some 16 million barrels for the whole of last year, data compiled by Reuters shows.
The Biden-Modi meeting will precede a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, the White House said.
Biden, who last spoke to Modi in March, recently said that only India among the Quad group of countries was "somewhat shaky" in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The South Asian nation has tried to balance its ties with Russia and the West but unlike other members of the Quad countries - United States, Japan and Australia - it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.
Biden told Modi he is looking forward to seeing him in Japan "on about the 24th of May."