New Delhi is witnessing a flurry of diplomatic activity as foreign ministers and security czars from Germany and Holland are flying in to persuade India to change its stand on the Ukraine crisis and not defy the unprecedented all-round sanctions that the US and its allies have slapped on Russia.
The US and its allies are upset over India’s neutral stand and refusal to condemn Russia’s aggression, though of late New Delhi, has nuanced its stand by referring to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nation-states. President Joe Biden and the US administration realise that besides the Western nations and American allies like Japan and South Korea, the rest of Asia has watched from the sidelines. Having a big Asian country like India on its side strengthens the view that the entire democratic world is standing together against Russia.
On Thursday, Sergei Lavrov arrived from China, where he was attending a meeting in Afghanistan to brief India on the Ukraine campaign and the peace moves in Turkey. Lavrov will meet foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. International attention is focused on Lavrov’s visit to India. The two sides are expected to finalise a deal to procure Russian oil at a lower price possibly a rupee-rouble exchange. However, no details are available at the moment. However, economic relations will be on the table during talks on Friday.
Australia and US have both frowned on India’s decision to receive Lavrov and discuss oil purchases. "Now is the time to stand on the right side of history, and to stand with the United States and dozens of other countries, standing up for freedom, democracy and sovereignty with the Ukrainian people, and not funding and fueling and aiding President Putin’s war," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. She called reports of the arrangement “deeply disappointing," while adding that she hadn’t seen details.
Dan Tehan, Australia’s trade minister echoed her American counterpart and said it was important for democracies to work together “to keep the rules-based approach that we’ve had since the second world war."
British foreign secretary Liz Truss held talks Thursday with her Indian counterpart. The aim of her hurried visit, which she is leaving soon after her meeting, is part of a wider diplomatic push following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine last month. Her message is simple. The Russian invasion of Ukraine underlines the "importance of democracies working closer together to deter aggressors, reduce vulnerability to coercion and strengthen global security,’" the British High Commission said in a statement on her visit. She wants to counter Russia’s aggression and reduce global strategic dependence on the country ahead of key NATO and G7 meetings next week.
Answering a reporter’s question during an appearance with Liz Truss, Jaishankar pointed out that not India but Europe bought the bulk of oil and gas from Russia, so blaming India was unfair. He went on to say that India bought most of its oil from the Gulf states, but was always on the lookout for cheap energy. India is unlikely to be dissuaded from buying Russian oil either through coercion or sweet talk and promises from other countries as New Delhi believes that its primary responsibility is to the Indian public hard-hit by the steep hike in international oil prices.
The US is trying its best to stop the deal. It had sent several high-level visitors to India in the last few days. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland was in Delhi, followed by Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Daleep Singh. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Jaishankar over the phone on Wednesday ahead of Lavrov’s visit.
Daleep Singh told Indian reporters that the US does not want to see "rapid acceleration" of Russian oil and other commodities that are under global sanctions. He also warned of consequences for countries that tried to break the embargo.