External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Thursday defended India’s decision to obtain “good deals” for energy supplies amid volatility in the global markets while pointing out that European nations were among the biggest buyers of Russian oil and gas.
Jaishankar made the remarks at a conversation with his British counterpart Liz Truss at the India-UK Strategic Futures Forum. Truss was on a day-long visit to India as part of a wider diplomatic push on the Ukraine crisis. The ministers were responding to a question on India taking up Russia’s offer of crude oil at discounted prices.
“It is interesting because we have seen for some time what looks almost like a campaign on this issue,” Jaishankar said, noting there was a report that Europe has bought 15% more oil and gas from Russia in March than in February.
“When the oil prices go up, I think it is natural for the countries to go out into the market and look for what are good deals for their people,” he said.
Jaishankar pointed out that the major buyers of Russian oil and gas were from Europe, whereas the bulk of India’s energy supplies are from the Middle East and almost 8% is from the US. Less than 1% of India’s crude purchases were from Russia, he added.
“But I am pretty sure if we wait 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,” Jaishankar said.
His remarks came hours after US deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh said Washington didn’t want to see any rapid acceleration in India’s energy purchases from Russia.
Truss said the UK intends to end its dependence on Russian oil by end of 2022. The UK is also looking to achieve a timetable with the G7 to reduce dependence on Russian energy, she said. “I think it is very important that we respect other countries’ decisions about the issues they face. India is a sovereign nation. I am not going to tell India what to do,” she added.
The UK government, as a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum, has a strong responsibility to take all possible actions to support Ukraine but “that is not the same as going around telling other countries what to do”, Truss said. The Budapest Memorandum committed the UK to protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for giving up Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
Truss also acknowledged that Europe had prioritised cheap gas, goods and technology while overlooking long-term security. “We did not do enough when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin invaded Crimea. We did not do enough to involve ourselves in the Minsk agreements and we are now seeing the results of that,” she said.
Such dependence on energy or technology takes time to address, but the UK is now removing China’s Huawei from its telecom’s networks and also “reducing and eliminating our dependence on Russian oil and gas”, she added.
The G7 has set a timetable to end this dependence and there have been “remarkable changes” in the case of countries such as Germany, which has changed its entire energy and defence policy because of the invasion of Ukraine, Truss said.
Truss also indicated the UK would not let up on its sanctions on Russia even if there is a ceasefire in Ukraine.
“I think the biggest danger at the moment is that we let off the gas on sanctions. We cannot do that. We need to continue to put pressure on Putin and continue to supply weapons into Ukraine. We need to make absolutely sure that we do not have a rerun of Minsk, that we make sure that the sanctions are kept on even in the event of a ceasefire, even in the event of a withdrawal of [Russian] troops…,” she said.
Jaushankar also said the real problems due to the Ukraine crisis were still to come, including increases in prices of oil and other commodities and disruptions in the financial world and logistics. The Covid-19 pandemic, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the Ukraine crisis are shocks to the global system, he added.
Truss said it was important that to keep up the pressure on Russia’s oil and gas sector as it was funding Putin’s “war machine”.