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India, US send clear signal: Divergence on Russia in Ukraine, convergences far more

Our purchases for month less than what Europe does in an afternoon: Jaishankar on Russian oil import

2+2(From left) Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (Twitter/@DrSJaishankar)

Not concealing the divergence in view on Russia and its war in Ukraine, the US and India sent clear signals Tuesday of a willingness to understand each other’s position given their “shared values” and a partnership deepening when there is “so much more going on in the world today”.

Emerging from the fourth 2+2 meeting — and the first under the Biden administration — of the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the US and India, Secretary of State Antony Blinken invoked shared values and international rules-based order to call upon all nations to “condemn Moscow’s increasingly brutal actions” in Ukraine. He urged all partners “not to increase their purchases of Russian energy”.

Aware of the oblique reference to India and its purchase of discounted Russian oil, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, responding to questions on India’s lack of condemnation of Russia’s actions, said, “So first of all, thank you for the advice and suggestions in your question. I prefer to do it my way and articulate it my way.”

While Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin named Russia and slammed its actions, Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did not condemn Russia in their public statements. Ever since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Delhi has maintained a diplomatic balance between the two sides — Russia on one side and the US-led West on the other.

To a question on energy imports from Russia which the West has been campaigning against, Jaishankar said, “If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe… We do buy some energy which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So you might want to think about that.”

This is the second time in a month that Jaishankar has underlined that India’s Russian energy consumption is much less than that of Europe — there is pressure from the West to stop buying Russian oil. He had last spoken on the issue in the presence of British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Delhi last month.

He, however, sought to dispel the divergences: “Watch what’s happening in the world, like any country does, and we draw our conclusions and make our assessments. And believe me, we have a decent sense of what is in our interest and know how to protect it and advance it. So I think part of what has changed is we have more options than we did before.”

“Have a look at us today. We are standing here for a 2+2 with a substantial defence collaboration which has happened in the last decade, which we have been discussing how to take forward. And this wasn’t an option which was there for 40 years before that. So the world is changing. The world will keep changing. What we have to do in our profession is to watch it and see how your interests are best advanced in that,” Jaishankar said, underlining that convergences outweigh the divergences in the Indo-US relationship.

Blinken too said: “There is, of course, a long history and a long relationship between India and Russia, including when it comes to military equipment. That relationship took hold many years ago at a time when, as I said, we were not able to be a partner to India.  And again, as I said, we are now both able and willing to be such a partner, to be a security partner of choice for India.”

He was very vocal on the Ukraine situation: “Russia’s war against Ukraine is an attack on Ukraine’s people; it’s also an attack on that rules-based order that we both adhere to and defend. The United States will continue to increase our support to the government and people of Ukraine and call on other nations to do the same, just as we call on all nations to condemn Moscow’s increasingly brutal actions. Russia’s aggression stands in stark contrast to the vision that the United States and India share for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Jaishankar, on his part, said: “Now, as Secretary Blinken has pointed out, we have made a number of statements which outline our position in the UN, in our Parliament, and in other forums. And briefly, what those positions state is that we are against the conflict; we are for dialogue and diplomacy; we are for urgent cessation of violence; and we are prepared to contribute in multiple ways to these objectives.”

On oil purchases and sanctions, Blinken said: “I would just note that there are carveouts for energy purchases. Of course, we are encouraging countries not to purchase additional energy supplies from Russia. Every country is differently situated, has different needs and requirements, but we are looking to allies and partners not to increase their purchases of Russian energy.”

He sought to bring attention to the rise in oil prices: “The Russian aggression against Ukraine is having profound impacts not only on the people of Ukraine, the brutalization of the country, but it is having global impacts, including, as we were talking about, on food availability and prices and also on energy.  And we have seen significant increases in price there as well.”

He then spoke on India as an energy market for the US and the world. “More broadly, though, India is the third largest consumer of energy in the world. It’s a big place, a big market. Electricity demand is projected to double by 2030. We have dramatically increased our own energy trade with India, diversifying its energy sources. Our energy exports to India now total about $11 billion a year,” he said.

Jaishankar too softened his tone. “I don’t want this whole subject to go off at a… on a sort of a political note. Every country looks at its best options, and I think today an expanding India-US energy relationship, which by the way didn’t exist some years ago — if my memory is right, you are the second-largest LNG supplier to India, I think the fourth or the fifth largest crude oil supplier, a big partner in the renewable side, including the agreement which Secretary Blinken just mentioned. So we have — there is so much more going on in the world today, and a large part of it is really to fully explore the opportunities between India and the United States.”

On Russia’s air defence system S-400 which India is buying, Blinken said: “We continue to urge all countries to avoid major new transactions for Russian weapons systems, particularly in light of what Russia is doing to Ukraine.  We have not yet made a determination regarding potential sanctions or potential waivers under the CAATSA law.”

A joint statement after the 2+2 meeting said: “The ministers reviewed mutual efforts to respond to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and assessed its broader implications. They urged an immediate cessation of hostilities. The ministers unequivocally condemned civilian deaths. They underscored that the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, respect for international law, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.” The formulation is in sync with the Indian government’s statements made at the UN Security Council and Parliament in the last few weeks.

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And a day after US President Joe Biden appreciated India’s humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Jaishankar too outlined the effort. “I think part of what we are doing is to press for cessation of hostilities which, I think everybody would agree, would mitigate matters and clearly make the world less unpredictable. We are also addressing the humanitarian situation. In fact, we have — the Ukrainians have been in touch with us, especially for the supply of medicines. We have already provided humanitarian relief to Ukraine, to some of their neighbours, and even as we speak, a shipment of medicines is being delivered or will be delivered very soon to Kyiv.”

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