Ukraine war: how India can buy Russian oil and still be friends with the United States
Ukraine war: how India can buy Russian oil and still be friends with the United States

Ukraine war: how India can buy Russian oil and still be friends with the United States

Not only did the South Asian country refuse to condemn Moscow’s brutal attack on Ukraine, but its purchase of Russian oil at a reduced price – critics said – faced sanctions aimed at paralyzing the Kremlin’s finances.

And the White House made clear its displeasure, calling New Delhi “somewhat appalling” and talking about its “disappointment.”

Then suddenly the tune of the West changed. When Biden met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month, it was all diplomatic backlash and sound bites about “a deep connection between our people” and “shared values.” So on Friday, the British leader, Boris Johnson, flew to Delhi to talk about trade relations and pose for disguised photo opes, all the while ignoring “differences” with respect to Russia.

India, analysts say, has just taught the West a master class in international diplomacy.

As India is crucial to the United States’ efforts to counter China’s progress – seen by the United States as potentially an even greater threat to world peace than Russia – the West had to bite its tongue.

Or as Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College London, put it, the United States realized the need to treat India as a “new partner to be courted for”.

Why is India crucial to the United States?

Both New Delhi and Washington are becoming more and more uneasy about China’s growth military powerits aggressive territorial claims on land and sea, and its growing economic influence over its smaller neighbors.
Under President Xi Jinping, China’s military – the People’s Liberation Army – has grown into a field the world’s largest fleettechnologically advanced stealth fighters and a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Part of Washington’s plan to address this rests on India’s inclusion – along with the United States, Japan and Australia – in the increasingly active security group known as Quad, said Pant, who also heads the Strategic Studies Program at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. .

Meanwhile, India has its own concerns with China. The two countries have been involved in a military battle along their common border with the Himalayas that has claimed dozens of lives in the last few years. And in an irony that will not have been lost on Washington, India is heavily dependent on Russian weapons to equip its military – including in the Himalayas.

Russia's attack on Ukraine reveals political fault lines in Asia

Shared concerns over Chinese aggression became clear after the Biden-Modi meeting, when US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned China to “reshape the region and the international system” and said the United States and India had “identified new opportunities to expand the operation.” of our military “.

It was a sign that – despite their disagreements over Ukraine – the two countries had a deep “understanding of each other’s positions,” said Manoj Kewalramani, a China Studies fellow at the Takshashila Institution in India.

Vocal about China, silent about India

These concerns help explain why Washington continues to criticize China’s silence about Russia’s actions in Ukraine, even as it becomes silent towards India.

Superficially, at least India and China seem to have similar views on the Ukraine war. Both have positioned themselves as neutral spectators – rather than loud opponents – both have called for peace, and both have refused to condemn the invasion directly.

And both have strategic relations with Russia, which they are eager not to endanger.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin declared in February that their relationship had “no borders”, while according to some estimates, India gets more than 50% of its military equipment from Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin will undergo a military honor guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 8, 2018.

But these similarities are only superficial. In fact, there are “big differences,” according to Kewalramani.

China has rejected Western sanctions and repeatedly blamed The United States and NATO for the conflict, pointing to Russia’s view that NATO triggered the crisis by expanding eastward, Kewalramani said. Its state-run media have also amplified Russian rhetoric and misinformation.

India, on the other hand, has avoided criticizing NATO and appears eager to downplay its disagreements with the United States. There have also been subtle changes in India’s position as the war has progressed.

Modi had spoken with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while China’s leaders had not, pointed out Li Mingjiang, an associate professor of international relations at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. India had also been tougher in its criticism of alleged Russian war crimes, Li said.

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This month, India’s UN ambassador called the killings of civilians in Bucha “deeply disturbing”, condemning them and calling for an open inquiry.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun, on the other hand, said the deaths were “deeply disturbing”, but stopped blaming it and urged “all sides” to “avoid unfounded accusations.”

It is significant that after the Biden-Modi negotiations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted India’s condemnation of the “killing of civilians in Ukraine” and its delivery of “humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine”.

A complicated relationship

The United States may also be acknowledging that India’s relations with Russia have historically followed a very different course from that of the West. Blinken noted that India’s ties with Russia had “developed over decades, at a time when the United States was unable to partner with India.”

It seemed to be a reference to the Cold War between the United States and the USSR – where India was officially non-aligned. However, India began to lean towards the USSR in the 1970s, when the United States began providing military and financial assistance to its neighbor, Pakistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on December 6, 2021.

That was when Russia started supplying weapons to India and India is still heavily dependent on Russia for military equipment to this day.

In 2018, India signed a $ 5 billion arms deal with Russia for an air defense missile system, despite the agreement potentially putting it at the crossroads of Washington’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a federal law passed in 2017 that imposed new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea.

India’s dependence on Russian weapons limits its ability to condemn Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. When Putin visited Delhi last December, Modi even called Putin a “dear friend”.

‘Courted by all sides’

All of this has led to a position where India is being “courted by all sides,” Pant said.

Moscow remains inside and remains eager to sell oil at a discount in India. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov even met his colleague in Delhi this month, praising India for not looking at the Ukraine war “in a one-sided way”.

And inside is also the West, to which ties have become ever closer since Modi’s election in 2014. Annual trade between India and the United States is more than $ 110 billion compared to India’s trade with Russia, which amounts to about $ 8 billion. In recent years, India has also become a major customer for US military equipment.

Still, at Biden’s meeting with Modi, there was a hint of unrest. The US president urged his Indian counterpart not to increase his country’s use of Russian oil, instead offering to help him acquire oil from elsewhere. India, which imports 80% of its oil needs, gets no more than 3% from Russia.

So it seems that India has managed to perform an impressive balancing act.

“India is actually coming out of this crisis very strongly,” Pant said. “And it’s actually quite an achievement.”

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