US, UK say they won’t tell India what to do on Russian imports

Mar 31, 2022: The U.S and U.K have said they respect India’s decision to continue importing Russian oil during the war in Ukraine, but a senior US official has said the Biden administration does not want to see an acceleration in such purchases.

While the United States has banned Russian oil and gas imports and European countries have pledged to reduce their dependence on supplies from Moscow, India has purchased at least  13 million barrels of crude oil from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Daleep Singh, the US deputy national security adviser for international economics, said Washington was “ready to help India diversify its energy resources, much like is the case for defence resources over a period of time”.

“But there is no prohibition at present on energy imports from Russia,” said Singh, adding that “friends don’t set red lines”.

“What we would not like to see is a rapid acceleration of India’s imports from Russia as it relates to energy or any other exports that are currently being prohibited by us or by other aspects of the international sanctions regime,” he said.

His comments come as British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visit India this week. Truss met her Indian counterpart, Subramaniam J. Shankar, on Thursday and discussed ways to strengthen defense ties, apparently to reduce India’s strategic dependence on Russia, officials said.

Like Singh, Truss said the UK respects India’s decision to buy Russian goods. “I think it is very important that we respect the decisions of other countries on the issues they are facing. India is an independent country. I am not going to tell India what to do.”

“I think it’s natural for countries to go out into the market and look for what are good deals for their people,” said Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister. “I am pretty sure if we wait two or three months and actually look at who are the big buyers of Russian gas and oil, I suspect the list won’t be very different from what it used to be.”

The Indian Oil Corp has a contract with Russian oil company Rosneft that gives India’s top refiner an option to buy up to two million tonnes, equivalent to about 15 million barrels, of Urals oil in 2022.

India has forged close ties with the United States in recent years and is an important part of the quad grouping aimed at retreating against China. But it has a long-standing relationship with Moscow, a major supplier of its defense equipment.

India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has forced more than four million people to flee their homes and wreaked havoc in Ukrainian cities and towns across the country. It has also abstained from voting on UN resolutions on the war. Last week, a senior White House official said India’s position at the UN on the Ukraine crisis has been “unsatisfactory” but also “unsurprising” given its historic relationship with Russia.

Russia’s Lavrov, meanwhile, was due to arrive in India on Thursday from China, which has also refused to condemn the attack, which has raised tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Earlier in the day, Putin said he had signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts would be halted if these payments were not made.

Russia wrote to India’s defence ministry requesting clearance of payments worth $1.3bn that have been halted since last month, according to the local Economic Times newspaper.

India is finding it difficult to process payments to Russia as most banks there have been put on the sanctions list, resulting in Indian lenders refusing to conduct transactions for fear of being excluded from the global financial system, the newspaper said.

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