Some Indian companies quit Russia even as Delhi stays neutral on Ukraine war

If the war continued and the West kept increasing sanctions, firms would find it difficult to do business with Russia. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India may have refused to budge from its neutral stand and has bought discounted oil from Russia since the war began in Ukraine.

But a small handful of Indian companies with substantial exposure to Western markets have stopped doing business with Russia.

Tata Steel announced last week it had "taken a conscious decision" to stop doing business with Russia. A company spokesman said the firm was sourcing "alternative supplies of raw materials" for its steel manufacturing sites in India, Britain and the Netherlands "to end its dependence on Russia".

Information technology major Infosys, which has massive exposure to Western markets, announced it was moving out its work from Russia.

"We have a small team of less than 100 employees based in Russia that service a few of our global clients," said Mr Salil Parekh, Infosys' chief executive officer and managing director, during a conference call on April 13.

"In the light of the prevailing situation, we made a decision to transition these services from Russia to our other global delivery centres."

British luxury automotive brand Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by India's Tata Motors, also suspended exports to Russia "due to trading challenges" in a move that was welcomed by the British government.

India has taken a neutral position on the Ukraine war, refusing to explicitly condemn Russia, an important defence partner.

In spite of Western pressure, India has bought discounted oil from Russia since the invasion and is looking to source more .

Whatever stance businesses are taking, however, the impact of the war dragging on has made itself felt, particularly in sectors like fertiliser, gas and coking coal, with DBS Group Research noting that disruptions would be felt in the energy sector.

The construction of state-run NTPC's 2,000 megawatt thermal power project in Bihar state has been affected given the involvement of "Russian entities", Power Minister Raj Kumar Singh told Parliament.

While he did not identify the Russian firms involved, he said the project had faced difficulty in payments and renewal of bank guarantees for the Russian companies, with Russia shut out of the Swift international payments system.

The project also depends on Russian expertise and materials.

Similarly, Reuters reported that state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Cooperation is facing trouble in finding a vessel to transport 700,000 barrels of crude from Russia.

Analysts said that if the war continued and the West kept increasing sanctions, firms would find it difficult to do business with Russia in spite of India's neutral position.

Professor Biswajit Dhar, a trade expert from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that companies with large exposure to the United States in particular would try and withdraw from Russia.

"Because they will be thinking of safety first. Later, US Congress investigations may take place and these companies would not like to be named and shamed," he said.

"I think other than that, companies will not withdraw. We will see a very clear divide between service exporters and those dealing in goods services. Service exporters have a lot of exposure in the West, while their markets in Russia are really marginal. They would like to protect their long-term interests."

The government has said that the full impact of the war in Ukraine would only be known "after the situation stabilises".

Meanwhile, India's imports from Russia, according to government figures, rose to US$8.69 billion (S$12 billion) in the first 11 months of 2021 to 2022 before the invasion of Ukraine, 58 per cent higher than the total imports of US$5.48 billion recorded in the full financial year of 2020 to 2021.

Moody's Investors Service has assessed, according to Indian media reports, that more than 30 per cent of companies across India, China, South Korea and Indonesia faced risk and were highly vulnerable to the spillover effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Prof Dhar noted that this situation was not totally unknown to India.

"I see a very strong parallel with what happened with Iran. Initially, we decided to do business in spite of Western sanctions. But when they (West) came down heavily, they forced our hand. We had to restrict," he said, but noted that in this instance, much depended on whether Europe, reliant on Russian gas and oil, could also decouple from Russia.

"And that is an open-ended question."

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