The United States and United Kingdom say they respect India’s decision to continue to import Russian oil amid the war in Ukraine, but a top US official has said the Biden administration does not want to see a “rapid acceleration” of such purchases.
While the US banned Russian oil and gas imports and European nations have pledged to ease their dependence on supplies from Moscow, India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the country invaded Ukraine in late February.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi on Thursday, 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 Sergey Lavrov also are visiting India this week.
Truss met with her Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Thursday and discussed ways to strengthen defence ties, apparently to reduce India’s strategic dependence on Russia, officials said.
Like Singh, Truss said the UK respected India’s decision to buy Russian supplies. “I think it’s very important that we respect other countries’ decisions about the issues that they face; India is a sovereign nation. I’m not going to tell India what to do,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Truss advocated for more stringent sanctions on Russia relating to the ports, gold and energy sectors, as Western nations continued to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the country’s offensive in Ukraine.
Russia is offering a discount of $35 a barrel to price levels before the start of the Ukraine crisis in late February, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
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.
“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.”
India has developed close ties with the US in recent years and is a vital part of the Quad grouping aimed at pushing back against China. But it has a longstanding relationship with Moscow, which remains a major supplier of its defence equipment.
India has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has forced more than four million people to flee their homes and caused destruction in Ukrainian cities and towns across the country. It also has abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions on the war.
Last week, a senior White House official said India’s position at the UN on the crisis in Ukraine has been “unsatisfactory” but was also “unsurprising” given its historical relationship with Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Lavrov was due to arrive in India on Thursday from China, which also has refused to condemn the invasion, a position that has increased 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.
“In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open rouble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments will be made for gas delivered starting from tomorrow,” Putin said in televised remarks.
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.