West stepping up engaging New Delhi over reports that India might buy more Russian oil.
Amidst a global call by NATO countries and western allies to join sanctions against Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to hold back–to–back summits with Quad partners, including an in–person summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday and a virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.
In addition, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland is expected to visit New Delhi next week, and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will hold talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar during a visit on March 30–31. The visit by Ms. Truss is understood to be visiting to finalise the agenda for a possible visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Ms. Nuland is expected to be accompanied by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and a senior Department of Defense official. Later this year, PM Modi is expected to travel to Tokyo for the next in–person Quad summit with the U.S. President and the Prime Ministers of Japan and Australia.
While officials said the focus of all the visits are understood to be bilateral political and trade issues, it is clear that the Ukraine conflict will be at the top of the agenda for the visiting dignitaries. Western diplomats have been pressing India, unsuccessfully thus far, to shift its position at the United Nations, where India has consistently abstained from resolutions criticising Russia for its actions, including at the U.N. Security Council, U.N. General Assembly, Human Rights Council and International Atomic Energy Agency.
Diplomats from several European countries said they are stepping up engaging New Delhi over reports that India is now considering buying more Russian oil being offered at discounted rates. In Parliament on Monday, Petroleum Minister Hardeep Puri who spoke to Russian Deputy Prime Minister on the issue last week indicated that India was deliberating over the issue “in the interest of the Indian citizen and consumer”.
Both the U.S. and the E.U. diplomats said while India’s decision to buy Russian oil would not violate the sanctions announced, it would be seen as a “non–neutral” act, in favour of Moscow.
“No one can prevent India from doing that [buying Russian oil],” said a Western diplomat, on the condition of anonymity. “But India must realise that conflict in Ukraine has resulted in a paradigm shift on Russia. With nearly 40 countries already part of the sanctions regime, and more joining everyday, we would like our Indian partners to consider the impact of such a move in the long term,” the diplomat added, indicating that the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council other groupings are due to hold “Extraordinary meetings” beginning next week to “review engagements with countries around the world” based on their actions over the crisis thus far.
Asked how European countries that continue to purchase Russian oil themselves could set standards for other countries, the diplomat said the E.U. has now indicated a timeline for ending European dependence on energy from Russia.
Among a flurry of European officials visiting Delhi, a Lithuanian delegation held Foreign Office Consultations on Wednesday, the MEA announced, adding that both sides “exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Afghanistan, Indo–Pacific, India–E.U. Partnership and the Ukraine situation.” In addition, President of the National Council of Austria, Wolfgang Sobotka met Mr. Jaishankar and “exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine and developments in Indo–Pacific”, the EAM tweeted.
Sources said both delegations shared concerns in Europe over Russia’s actions and mounting civilian casualties. On Monday, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg is expected to meet Mr. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and his visit will be followed by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, and both are expected to carry a similar message. Next month a number of other Foreign Ministers, including Polish FM Zbigniew Rau will attend the MEA’s Raisina Dialogue in Delhi.
The Ukraine conflict also came up in talks between Mr. Jaishankar and Brazilian Secretary for Strategic Affairs Admiral Flávio Rocha, prompting the External Affairs Minister to tweet that they discussed “the relevance of strategic autonomy in an uncertain and a volatile world.”