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Russia praises India's 'balanced' stance on Ukraine (Update)

INCREINDO - Russia has praised India's "independent and balanced" position after Delhi abstained from a UN Security Council vote that deplored Moscow's "aggression" against Ukraine.

India, along with China and the UAE, did not vote on the resolution Friday, a move in line with the fine balance Delhi has sought to strike between partnerships with Moscow and Western allies.

"Highly appreciate India's independent and balanced position at the voting in the UNSC," the Russian embassy in India tweeted on Saturday, hailing the countries' "special and privileged strategic partnership".

Despite being a member of the "Quad" grouping with Australia, Japan and the United States, India has neither explicitly condemned Moscow's actions, nor called them an invasion so far.

New Delhi and Moscow were close throughout the Cold War, a relationship that endures to this day, and Russia continues to be India's biggest arms supplier.

On Saturday, Washington urged Delhi to use its influence with Russia to "protect the rules-based international order".

"India and Russia have a relationship, including in the defence and security sector, that we don't have," US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

"We have asked every country that has a relationship and certainly those countries that have leverage to use that leverage in a constructive way." 

Since the assault, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken with both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russia's Vladimir Putin, expressing concern over the violence.

Critics have been forthright in condemning India's balancing act.

"India's careful, avoid angering Putin at all costs response despite Russia's blatant aggression vs Ukraine highlights that it remains unprepared to step up to major power responsibilities or be a dependable partner," foreign relations expert Richard Haass tweeted.

"Disappointing as well as short-sighted given rise of China."

The diplomatic frenzy comes as India embarks on an air evacuation exercise for some 15,000 of its nationals, most of them students, stranded in Ukraine.

TOn Saturday, a batch of about 200 Indian students who made it to countries neighbouring Ukraine arrived on the first of several special flights.

But hundreds of other students stuck on the border with Poland spent Saturday night without food, shelter and water as Ukrainian border guards were not allowing them through checkpoints, a report in the Times of India newspaper said.

They alleged that the guards were letting only Russian, Polish and Ukrainian citizens through the border and demanding bribes of $200 from each Indian student.

India's foreign secretary on Sunday admitted the situation at the checkpoint to Poland was "difficult" and said the students were now being advised to take other appropriate exit points to Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.