Indian, Russian foreign ministers meet; Lavrov appreciates New Delhi is not ‘one-sided’ in its approach


Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held talks Friday with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov amid intense pressure on New Delhi to join in the chorus of condemnation over the invasion of Ukraine, with the US even warning of “consequences” for countries attempting to circumvent American sanctions against Moscow.

The high-level talks took place amid indications that India could buy greater volumes of discounted Russian oil and both sides were keen on having a rouble-rupee arrangement for bilateral trade. India said its energy imports from Russia were minimal – compared to that of Europe – and it needed to widen its options in the current global scenario to fulfil its energy security.

Lavrov said ties between India and Russia had been strong despite many difficulties and Moscow wanted a “balanced world order” and appreciated New Delhi’s position on the Ukraine crisis.

“We have been able to find the balance that makes our relationship sustainable. We have had useful meetings as well as 2+2 talks. As far as I understand, we continue to implement projects in areas of energy, science, pharmaceuticals as we manage to fight Covid. You know our position on Ukraine, we do not hide anything and you must take our position in the entirety and not in a one-sided way,” he said.

“We are interested in having a balanced world order which makes it sustainable. These days our western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine…We do not fight anything and we appreciated that India is taking this situation in the entirety of effect and not just one-sided way,” Lavrov added.

Lavrov said he wished to convey a “message personally” from President Vladimir Putin to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Acknowledging that the meeting between the Indian and Russian Foreign Ministers were taking place in a “difficult international environment”, Jaishankar said New Delhi has “always been in favour of resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and diplomacy”.

Hours before Lavrov’s arrival, US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh cautioned that there would be consequences for countries actively attempting to “circumvent or backfill” American sanctions against Moscow.

“I come here in a spirit of friendship to explain the mechanisms of our sanctions, the importance of joining us to express shared resolve and to advance shared interests. And yes, there are consequences to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill these sanctions,” said Daleep Singh, to a question about India buying discounted oil from Russia.

After holding a series of meetings with Indian interlocutors, he also said that Washington would not like to see a “rapid” acceleration in India’s import of energy and other commodities from Russia.

The proposed rupee-rouble payment system, if finalised, is likely to help the two long-standing strategic partners carry on with bilateral trade while avoiding the purview of Western sanctions on Russia, NDTV said.

India has defended its decision, saying less than 1% of India’s crude purchases are from Russia and Europe imports more than 15% of its needs.

India has not yet openly criticised 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.

India has been pressing for the resolution of the crisis through diplomacy and dialogue.

The Russian foreign minister’s visit to India came on the heels of the visit of the US Deputy National Security Adviser, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and German Foreign and Security Policy Advisor Jens Plotner. Truss visited India on March 31 while Singh was in India from March 30-31. Plotner was in Delhi on March 30.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held phone conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24, March 2 and March 7.

Modi had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy twice. Last week, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in Parliament that India’s position on the Ukraine conflict has been “steadfast and consistent” and that it has been seeking immediate cessation of violence.

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