Rajat Sharma

Will Modi mediate in Russia-Ukraine crisis?

rajat-sirThe entire world is watching India at a crucial juncture in history. The war between Russia and Ukraine has entered the 38th day and on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. Modi told Lavrov that India was ready to contribute in any way towards peace efforts between Russia and Ukraine. Lavrov had brought a special message from Russian President Vladimir Putin for Modi.

While Russia wants India should mediate in the Ukrainian crisis, the US wants India to stay away from Russia and join the western bloc in opposing Putin. Britain also wants India should stand with European countries who are opposing Russian invasion. China, whose foreign minister Wang Yi dropped in on a sudden visit to Delhi, wants peace with India. Neighbouring Pakistan’s beleaguered Prime Minister Imran Khan is repeatedly praising India’s ‘independent’ foreign policy and wants his own country, like India, should not come under any external pressure.

The Russian foreign minister said in Delhi, “Indian foreign policies are characterized by independence and the concentration on real national legitimate interests…If India wants to buy anything from Russia, we are ready to discuss it”.

Lavrov’s comments come in the wake of US Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics, Daleep Singh’s controversial remarks about India, Russia and China.

Daleep Singh, who is the point person for Biden administration on international sanctions, had told reporters in Delhi after meeting Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla that “…the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think that anyone would believe that if China once again breaches the Line of Actual Control, Russia would come running to India’s defence”. In diplomatic circles, such remarks are not considered polite, it is outright a threat.

On Friday, India sent a clear message to US, when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met Lavrov, who also called on Prime Minister Modi. There could be no stronger message in diplomatic language and nuances than this. India’s message was: We will not be browbeaten as far as its foreign policy is concerned. To repeat PM Modi’s phrase, “we will not look up at anybody, nor will we lower our eyes while meeting anybody. We will look into the eye and speak.”

While speaking about possible Chinese transgression on LAC, America tried to instil fear in India’s mind, by comparing the Russian-Ukraine crisis with India-China border issue. The American official probably forgot that India is not Ukraine, and China knows this, and it would be better if the US realizes this. Prime Minister Modi’s vision, intent and policies are clear. India will act only to its own advantage and will not come under any external pressure.

The American deputy NSA who made the remarks probably thought India would be cowed down and it would desist from being friendly with Russia, but India did not budge from its stand. On the oil deal with India, the Russian FM said, “we will be ready to supply to India any goods which India wants to buy….I have no doubt that a way would be found out to bypass artificial impediments created by the West by imposing illegal and unilateral sanctions.”

India is the world’s third biggest oil importer and consumer, and it had been buying Russian oil through spot tenders since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out on February 24. Since that date, India has purchased at least 13 million barrels of Russian oil at huge discount, compared to 16 million barrels that it brought during the whole year from Russia in 2021.

While the current US and Western sanctions against Russia do not prevent other countries from buying Russian oil, a senior US administration official recently said that “India could be exposing itself to great risk if there is a significant increase in Russian oil purchase…The US has no objection to India buying Russian oil provided it buys at discount, without significantly increasing its purchases compared to previous years.”

Russia, on its part, wants to intensify its bilateral trade with India, because of US and Western sanctions. Lavrov said on Friday that Russia is moving towards conduction ruble-rupee trade with India to bypass western sanctions. He said the ruble-rupee trade with India began years ago and now efforts to bypass western payment systems will now be intensified.

To sum up, India will pursue its foreign policy keeping its national interests as supreme. No amount of bullying or browbeating by external forces will work. On its part, India has also told Russia that early cessation of hostilities in Ukraine would help in restoring peace. Lavrov said, “India is an important country, and if India seeks to play the role for resolution of (Ukraine) crisis, it can. India has adopted a just and rational approach to international problems, and it can support such a (peace) process.”

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