In A Week Of Hectic Diplomacy, India Sticks To Its Guns Over Its Ukraine Stance
New Delhi, April 3 (TNA) A week of hectic diplomacy, that saw foreign ministers and security representatives of major countries both court and caution New Delhi over its neutral stance on the Ukraine war, saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailing India's "independent foreign policy" and declaring that Moscow was agreeable to a rupee-rouble payment platform on energy deals that would bypass the dollar and euro-dominated Western payment system.
Russia and India are looking to “bypass” the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and partners, Lavrov said significantly after talks with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Lavrov also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday evening when, according to the Prime Minister's Office, “[The] Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of violence, and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts.”
India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Jaishankar and Lavrov specifically discussed New Delhi’s concerns over the impact of the Ukraine crisis on its economy, noting that it was “important” to ensure that their economic and technological contacts remain “stable and predictable”. India is dependent for over 70 per cent of its weapon and armament supplies from Russia and is also seeking to negotiate an oil deal in the face of rising global oil prices.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was quoted as saying that India has already started buying the cheaper Russian oil on offer. “Well, it’s gone through. We have started buying. We have received about quite a number of barrels, I would think about three-four days’ supply, and this will continue,” she said to CNBC TV18.
“I will put my country’s national interest and energy security first. If there is fuel available at a discount, why shouldn’t I buy it? I need it for my people,” she said.
Lavrov’s visit came on the heels of back to back visits by senior officials of the US, UK, and Germany this week who cautioned India against trying to circumvent the financial sanctions put in place by them, by using a non-dollar “rupee-rouble” payment mechanism.
They also expressed the hope that India would not further increase its oil intake from Russia. While the MEA made no response to the comments, that included a direct warning from the US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh that there would be “consequences” to such actions, Lavrov lashed out at the West for attempting to “blackmail” India and other countries that are not part of the sanctions, The Hindu reported.
On the possibility of Modi as a mediator in the Ukraine crisis, Lavrov told reporters, "India is an important and serious country. If India plays that role that provides resolution, India as our common partner... we are for security guarantee of Ukraine... West has ignored its responsibility... India can support such process".
Two days ago, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in an interview to NDTV, had exhorted India to use her influence with Russia to stop the war that is in its second month and cost thousands of lives. "If Prime Minister Modi is willing to play that role (mediator between Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelinsky and President Putin), we will welcome his efforts".
India has not yet openly criticized Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and it has abstained from votes at the UN on resolutions condemning Russia. But last week, India abstained on a resolution pushed by Russia on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, which was seen as reflective of its neutral position on the conflict.
Lavrov in New Delhi praised India's stance. "These days our Western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine... (We) appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety of facts, not just in a one-sided way," Lavrov said.
With India virtually cold-shouldering Western pleas and pressures over boycotting Russia economically, it remains to be seen how Washington responds to New Delhi's actions, especially when Modi personally received the Russian foreign minister but did not find time to meet any of the foreign ministers from the Western bloc. Modi also did not meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he visited last week.