Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday avoided public comments on the Ukrainian situation despite his Australian counterpart calling for cooperation between the Quad members over the issue.
Ahead of their formal virtual meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the meeting was being held at a time “when the region is facing a terrible situation.”
“Our meeting today is, of course, set against the very distressing backdrop of the war in Europe, which must never happen in our own region, and I very much want to thank you for the partnership that we have,” Morrison told Modi, according to a statement by the Australian Prime Minister’s Office.
Referring to the Quad leaders’ meeting earlier this month, Morrison said they discussed the Ukrainian crisis as the Indo-Pacific region “is facing increasing change and much pressure.”
“The tragic loss of life underlines the importance, of course, of holding Russia to account. But cooperation between like-minded liberal democracies is key to an open and inclusive and resilient and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and I welcome your leadership within the Quad to keeping us focused on those important issues," Morrison said.
The group of the US, India, Japan, and Australia, known as Quad, held a virtual meeting on March 3, but the leaders failed to reach a consensus to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine in their joint statement.
Since Russia launched a war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, New Delhi has called for a peaceful solution to the crisis, but refrained from openly criticizing Moscow.
India is historically an ally of Russia, but is said to have grown closer to the US in recent years, in Washington's bid to counter Beijing.
In response to Morrison’s remarks, however, the Indian prime minister avoided talking about Ukraine’s war and focused on bilateral and trade relations.
“There is also good cooperation between us in the Quad framework. Our cooperation under the Quad demonstrates our commitment towards a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The success of Quad is essential for regional and global stability,” Modi said.
At the end of his opening statement, Modi asked journalists to leave them alone. “I would like to share my thoughts with you on the next agenda item and I would request all my friends from the media to leave us so that we can continue with the rest of the program,” he said.
Last week, Modi also avoided direct mention of Ukraine in his remarks at a news conference with Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, and only made a reference to “geopolitical developments.”
Earlier this month, India was among the 35 nations which abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution that censured Russia for its military actions in Ukraine.