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It’s India’s ‘Fundamental Obligation, Advantage’: Jaishankar on Russian Oil Purchase

Defending India’s oil trade with Russia, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday said it is the “fundamental obligation” of New Delhi to ensure that Indian consumers have the best possible access to it on the “most advantageous” terms in international crude markets. In the presence of his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, he said buying the oil from Moscow is an “advantage” to India and he would like to keep that going.

In the last few months, India has increased the import of discounted crude oil from Russia notwithstanding increasing disquiet over it by several western powers.

While addressing a joint press conference in Moscow, Jaishankar was asked about India’s increasing oil import amid the western nations’ outcry. To this, he said, “In that respect, quite honestly, we have seen that the India-Russia relationship has worked to our advantage. So if it works to my advantage I would like to keep that going.”

He added, “As regards the oil supply issue, first of all, there is stress on the energy markets. This is a stress which has been created by a combination of factors. But as today the world’s third-largest consumer of oil and gas, a consumer where the levels of income are not very high, it is our fundamental obligation to ensure that the Indian consumer has the best possible access on the most advantageous terms to international markets.”

The minister also reaffirmed the resolve by India and Russia to expand overall economic engagement. “The fact that I am here today with a delegation to review our cooperation, to see how we can take it forward, to create a long-term sustainable basis, I think, says most of all. For us, Russia has been a steady and time-tested partner, and as I said, any objective evaluation of our relationship over many decades would confirm that it has actually served both our countries very, very well,” he said.

Jaishankar said the energy and fertilizer cooperation between the two sides has been strengthening and achievements of the last few years have become a foundation to do more. “We discussed ways to expand and diversify our cooperation, moving beyond traditional areas. Promotion of inter-regional cooperation has been a key priority for us, particularly with the Russian Far East,” he said, adding, “We also discussed enhancing connectivity, including through the International North-South Transport Corridor as well as the Chennai-Vladivostok Eastern Maritime Corridor.”

Jaishankar’s visit to Russia assumes significance as it came over a week before the G20 summit in Bali which is set to extensively deliberate on the Ukraine conflict and its implications. It is his first visit to Moscow after the beginning of the Ukraine conflict.

Notably, Russia has become India’s top oil supplier in October, surpassing traditional sellers Saudi Arabia and Iraq, according to data from energy cargo tracker Vortexa. Russia, which made up for just 0.2 per cent of all oil imported by India in the year to March 31, 2022, supplied 935,556 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil to India in October — the highest ever.

It now makes up for 22 per cent of India’s total crude imports, ahead of Iraq’s 20.5 per cent and Saudi Arabia’s 16 per cent.

India’s appetite for Russian oil swelled ever since it started trading on discount as the West shunned it to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

India has been vehemently defending its trade with Russia, saying it has to source oil from where it is cheapest. “In FY22 (April 2021 to March 2022), the purchases of Russian oil was 0.2 per cent (of all oil imported by India). We still buy only a quarter of what Europe buys in one afternoon,” Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri told CNN in Abu Dhabi last week. He added, “We owe a moral duty to our consumers. We have a 1.34 billion population and we have to ensure that they are supplied with energy…whether it’s petrol, diesel.”