India on Thursday defended its decision to look for “good deals” for its energy requirement amid volatility in the market, while pointing out that Europe has been a major buyer of Russian oil and gas even after the crisis in Ukraine unfolded.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made the remarks in the presence of visiting British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the India-UK Strategic Futures Forum, shortly after holding extensive talks with her on a range of issues, including the situation in Ukraine.
“When the oil prices go up, I think it is natural for countries to go out into the market and look for what are the good deals for their people,” Jaishankar said.
“But I am pretty sure if we wait for two or three months and actually look at who are the big buyers of Russian oil and gas, I suspect the list would not be too different from what it used to be and I suspect we won’t be in the top 10 on that list,” he said.
Mr Jaishankar’s comments came on a day Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in India on a two-day visit.
The visit by Ms Truss to India on Thursday came amid increasing disquiet in the western capitals over India not criticising Russia for its attack on Ukraine and its decision to buy discounted Russian crude oil.
Severely critical of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Ms Truss said at the India-UK forum that her country will end its dependence on Russian oil by the year-end and added that India is a sovereign nation and she is not going to tell it what to do.
She was asked at the forum to comment on India’s decision to buy discounted oil from Russia.
“It is interesting because we have seen for some time what looks almost like a campaign on this issue. I was reading a report today that in March, Europe has bought, I think, 15 per cent more oil and gas from Russia than it did the month before,” Mr Jaishankar responded.
“If you look at the major buyers of oil and gas from Russia, I think you will find most of them are in Europe,” he added.
Mr Jaishankar said India gets the bulk of its energy supplies from the Middle East and around 7.5 to 8 per cent from the US, while the procurement from Russia in the past was less than one per cent.
“We are reducing and eliminating our dependence on Russian oil and gas. That takes time. That is also true for other countries and the important thing for me is that the G7 has set a timetable to end that dependency and sent a strong signal in the market,” Truss said.
“There have been some pretty remarkable changes. Germany has changed its entire energy and defence policy as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. We need to keep doing that,” she said.
Truss said sanctions against Russia must be enforced. “We need to continue to put pressure on (Vladimir) Putin and continue to supply weapons to Ukraine.” The British foreign secretary said strengthening her country’s relationship with India has become more important than it was before as “we are living in a more insecure world, precisely because we have Putin’s appalling invasion of Ukraine and violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
She wondered what would be the message the democratic countries will send across the world if the Russian president was successful.
“If he was able to have success invading a sovereign nation, what message will that send to other aggressors around the world? I think it is very significant that the sanctions are applied on Russia along with weapons being supplied to Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Truss said.
“We have seen the alliance of G7, including Japan, putting on sanctions. We are also seeing countries like Australia, South Korea and Singapore participating in those sanctions because I think countries across the world, regardless of their specific status or structure, understand that there is a fundamental problem if an aggressor gets away with invading a sovereign nation,” she added.
Mr Truss said the impact of the Ukraine crisis will not be limited to Europe and will have far-reaching consequences.
“The idea that somehow we should only focus on Europe because of this crisis is completely wrong. I am afraid to say that the implications of this crisis are far-reaching. We are seeing global food security threatened, global energy security threatened,” she said.
Referring to major geopolitical developments, Mr Jaishankar said what happened in Afghanistan last summer had a very strong impact on India, but it was not the case for Europe.
Ahead of her talks with Mr Jaishankar, the British High Commission said Ms Truss will work to deepen cyber security and defence cooperation between the two countries and announce a new joint cyber security programme.
It said the programme will aim at protecting the online infrastructure in both countries from attacks.
It said India and the UK will work together to increase cyber security and carry out joint exercises to practise combatting threats from cybercriminals and ransomware.
“The UK will join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and become a lead partner on maritime security issues, coordinating work with key partners in Southeast Asia,” it added.
The High Commission said the foreign secretary will also confirm 70 million pounds of British International Investment (BII) funding to support renewable energy use in India.
It said the current volatility in oil and gas prices and energy security concerns as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscored the importance of India’s green transition and move towards energy self-sufficiency.
In the talks, the two sides also discussed the implementation of Roadmap 2030.
The India-UK relationship was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership during a virtual summit held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson in May last year.
At the summit, the two sides adopted a 10-year roadmap to expand ties in the key areas of trade and economy, defence and security, climate change and people-to-people connections.