NEW DELHI: The US may show understanding of India’s plans to buy discounted oil for economic reasons from Russia, US President Joe Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki has indicated.
Asked at her daily briefing on Friday about “largest democracy” India buying oil from Moscow, she said that while the US has banned Russian oil import, “every country has not made that decision. And we recognise that and they have different economic reasoning as to why different countries do including some in Europe”.
She said that US official have been in touch “with Indian leaders at a range of levels” but Biden has himself not reached out to them on the issue.
A senior-level US delegation headed by Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland is starting a South Asia tour from Saturday during which it is scheduled to hold meetings with Indian officials.
“What we would project or convey to anyone around the world is that the world, the rest of the world, is watching where you’re going to stand as it relates to conflict, whether its support for Russia in any form,” she said.
Psaki had said at her briefing on Tuesday that India would not be violating US sanctions if it imported oil from Russia.
While some major Russian petroleum companies have been put under US sanctions, Washington has not banned the buying of oil, gas or coal because of the devastating impact that would have on its close European allies that depend on Moscow for a sizable part of their energy needs.
Because of the impact of soaring oil prices on the economy, India’s Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has said that “discussions are underway” for buying oil from Russia, but “there are several issues to be gone into like how much oil is available”, as well as payment for it and transportation.
Accounting for under 3 per cent, Russia is not a major supplier of oil to India, which gets most of it from the Middle East, while the US is also emerging as an important source for it.
India’s proposal to buy oil from Russia has come under criticism in the US.
Indian-American member of the House of Representatives, Ami Bera, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, said that if it decided to buy the cheap Russian oil, “New Delhi would be choosing to side with (Russia’s President) Vladimir Putin at a pivotal moment in history”.
But European countries like Germany that are continuing energy purchases from Russia have not met with similar criticism.
The Biden administration and India are evolving a delicate balance at the centre of which is China on how New Delhi reacts to the Russia invasion of Ukraine.
Washington needs New Delhi as a counterpoise to Beijing and it recognises India’s existential dependence on Moscow for its weapons to defend against China.
And, India because of the need to continue arms supply from Russia has to avoid antagonising it.
India has abstained on three resolutions in the UN Security Council on Ukraine and another in the General Assembly, while also continuing its economic ties to Russia.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed @arulouis)