Russia says appreciates India’s response to Ukraine crisis; US says New Delhi cannot rely on Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meeting his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi on Dec 6, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP, REUTERS) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began meetings with India’s leaders in New Delhi on Friday (April 1) after seeing his Chinese counterpart earlier in the week, as Moscow tries to keep the Asian powers on its side amid Western sanctions.

The two Asian powers are the only major countries to have not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

After Mr Lavrov visited China this week, Beijing said it was “more determined” to develop bilateral ties with Russia.

“We appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety of facts and not just in a one-sided way,” Mr Lavrov said in his opening remarks during a meeting with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“We continue to implement projects in the areas of energy, science and technology, outer space, pharmaceutical industry.”

Mr Jaishankar said bilateral relations had been expanded but that they would have detailed discussions about the ongoing “difficult international environment”.

“India, as you are aware, has always been in favour of resolving differences and disputes with dialogue and diplomacy,” he said.

Mr Lavrov’s mission to shore up support from a country Moscow has long-regarded as a friend comes a day after senior US and British officials held talks in New Delhi to persuade the Indian government to avoid undermining Western sanctions.

US Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics, Daleep Singh said the United States would not set any “red line” for India on its energy imports from Russia but did not want to see a “rapid acceleration” in purchases.

British Foreign Minister Liz Truss also said Britain respected India’s decision to buy discounted oil from Russia, while advocating stringent sanctions on Russia relating to the ports, gold and energy sectors.

India has bought millions of barrels of crude oil from Russia at a discount since the war erupted, justifying the purchases as beneficial for its citizens and something that even European countries are doing.

India has also contracted to buy sunflower oil from Russia at a record-high price after supplies from Ukraine stopped due to the war.

Defence analysts say New Delhi can ill-afford to alienate Russia, which has been its biggest arms supplier for decades.

Russian and Indian officials have declined to share the agenda of Mr Lavrov’s visit. He was due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi before departing on Friday evening.

Indian and Russian officials are expected to discuss a rupee-rouble payments mechanism to maintain trade as dollar-based transactions become difficult due to the sanctions, Reuters has reported.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the US official Singh said there would be consequences for countries seeking to circumvent the sanctions against Russia.

"I come here in a spirit of friendship to explain the mechanisms of our sanctions, the importance of joining us, to express a shared resolve and to advance shared interests. And yes, there are consequences to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill the sanctions," he said.

"We are very keen for all countries, especially our allies and partners, not to create mechanisms that prop up the rouble and that attempt to undermine the dollar-based financial system," Mr Singh said.

At the same time, Mr Singh said the US was ready to help India - the world's third biggest oil importer and consumer - diversify its energy and defence supplies.

He also warned that India could not rely on Russia, especially when it comes to its border dispute with China.

Moscow, facing massive Western sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine, has declared a "no-limits partnership" with China.

New Delhi meanwhile shares Western alarm over Beijing's assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, with 20 Indian and four Chinese troops killed in a brawl on their disputed Himalayan border in 2020.

"Russia is going to be the junior partner in this relationship with China. And the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India," Singh was quoted as saying on Thursday.

"I don't think anyone would believe that if China once again breached the Line of (Actual) Control, that Russia would come running to India's defence," he said, referring to the India-China border.

India is part of the so-called Quad alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia - seen as a bulwark against China.

After the 2020 clash on the China border, India rushed large amounts of military hardware to the frontier, most of it Russian-origin.

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