India has never been defensive about buying Russian oil: S Jaishankar in Thailand

In an interaction with diaspora in Bangkok, S Jaishankar defended India's decision to buy discounted Russian oil amid Moscow's ongoing war with Ukraine, the impact of this on US India ties and other challenges

Jaishankar, Sino-Indian border, Ladakh, Indo-China border, LAC
"I have a country that has a per capita income of two thousand dollars. These are not people who can afford higher energy prices," said Jaishankar, adding it was the government's obligation and moral duty to ensure people in India get the best deal

India has never been defensive about buying Russian oil, the government had the ‘moral duty’ to ensure the people got the best deal amid the unreasonably high oil and gas prices, said external affairs minister S Jaishankar.

The US and some other nations in the world may not have appreciated India buying Russian oil, but they have accepted it, as New Delhi has not been defensive about its stand.

Jaishankar, who arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday (August 16) to attend the 9th India-Thailand Joint Commission Meeting, participated in an event where he met members of the Indian community. In an interaction with the diaspora, Jaishankar defended India’s decision to buy discounted Russian oil amid Moscow’s ongoing war with Ukraine, saying many suppliers from India have diverted their supplies to Europe, which is buying less oil from Russia.

As oil and gas prices are “unreasonably high”, a lot of traditional suppliers to Asia are diverting to Europe because Europe is buying less oil from Russia, he said. “It is a situation today where every country will try to get the best deal possible for its citizens, to try to cushion the impact of these high energy prices. And that is exactly what we are doing,” Jaishankar said in response to a question.

India is not doing this in a “defensive way”, he reiterated. “We are being very open and honest about our interests. I have a country that has a per capita income of two thousand dollars. These are not people who can afford higher energy prices,” Jaishankar said, adding that it was the government’s “obligation” and “moral duty” to ensure that the people in India get the “best deal.”

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To a question on the impact of purchasing Russian oil on India’s ties with the US, he replied, “I do see that — not just in the United States but including the US — that they know what our position is and they move on with that.”

“Once you lay out very openly and honestly, people accept it,” he added. “They may not always appreciate it but once it is there and you are not trying to be too clever about it, you actually have laid out your interest in a very direct manner, my sense is that the world somewhat accepts that as reality,” Jaishankar said.

The US and European nations have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine on February 24. India has raised oil imports from Russia after the Ukraine war, despite criticism from the west and continues to engage with Moscow for business.

A senior Indian government official had admitted in June that India’s crude oil imports from Russia had jumped over 50 times since April. In May, Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to become India’s second-biggest supplier of oil behind Iraq, as refiners snapped up Russian crude available at a deep discount following the war in Ukraine. Indian refiners bought about 25 million barrels of Russian oil in May.

In June during a conference in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, Jaishankar defended India’s purchase of Russian oil, saying if Europe manages to procure oil and gas from Russia in a way to ensure that the impact on its economy is not traumatic, that freedom should exist for others as well.

Also read: EU reaches deal to ration gas amid Russian cut-off fears

Earlier, addressing the Indian community, Jaishankar highlighted the various challenges faced by India. “We have long been challenged by the…impact of cross-border terrorism. In the last two years, we also had a challenging situation on our northern borders,” he said.
He said a situation has arisen at the northern border that went against understanding India had with its northern neighbour China.

He said there are a whole host of other issues, like pandemics, climate change, and maritime security that impact India, which is one-fifth of humanity.

India-Thailand ties

On India-Thailand ties, EAM said, for India, the ASEAN has been associated with a period of reforms. “Among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Thailand has been particularly important for us. It is today a very major partner…I think trade today is in excess of 15 billion dollars,” he said.

Thailand is a partner to India not only in ASEAN but other organisations like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and Mekong-Ganga. “I am here to take our relationship with Thailand forward,” he said.

The objective of the joint commission being to build greater political comfort, to increase trade, to look at the barriers blocking promotion of more economic activity and more investments between the two countries. And, also to make it easier for the people to travel between the two nations.

“This really matters to us today because, in a much more volatile and uncertain world, both ASEAN and India…find each other a source of stability,” he affirmed, adding that the Indian community has a role in strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Jaishankar shared the agnipariksha (test of fire) India had to go through during the coronavirus pandemic and the lessons they learned from it. “Today, I present to you a picture that has come through the COVID period. Like everybody else, we have been scarred and felt the pain, There is barely a family I know which has not lost someone or where people haven’t had COVID,” he said.

But this agnipariksha has also given India a great deal of learning, new capabilities, and strong confidence with a sense that as a country, as a society and as a people, the people have the ability to deal with such challenges and not just deal with a survival mode. But,  to deal with it in a way that we once again return to our high growth trajectory and be the fastest growing major economy this year and probably in the foreseeable future, he said.

Also read: India, ASEAN agree to work in tandem to uphold multilateralism

According to the EAM, the country dealt even with the COVID and followed a form of fiscal prudent policy. This policy had to do with ensuring social stability where weak, and vulnerable were secured.

“…we encouraged clean up of the system, we say reform in the system, important reforms like tax, business, education. So, we have actually used this period well and during the first year of COVID, we reported the largest ever exports in our history,” he added.

“These are some of our achievements but we still have a long way to go,” he added.
“What I see today in terms of innovation, and start-ups is really beyond imagination…there is infrastructure change taking place,” he said.

“So, a sense which I want to share with you is that with 75 years of Independence, we are today a country very confident looking at our future, very determined to pick up the pace of growth,” he added.