Russia praises India’s neutrality on Ukraine invasion

Western nations intensify pressure on New Delhi to condemn war

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday praised India's neutrality ahead of a meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi, as western nations intensified pressure on New Delhi to condemn Moscow's war in Ukraine.

The meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Lavrov topped off 48 hours of intense diplomatic activity in New Delhi, with visiting envoys from the US and UK seeking to persuade India – a long-standing partner of both Moscow and Washington – to take a stand against the invasion.

“These days our western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine,” Mr Lavrov said. “We appreciate that India is taking this situation in the entirety [of its] effects, not just in a one-sided way.”

New Delhi has abstained from UN votes condemning Russian aggression.


Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, had called India's foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Thursday to discuss "the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine", among other topics.

Mr Lavrov stoked western concerns that New Delhi might agree to adopt a rupee-rouble trading mechanism. “More and more transactions will be done using national currencies and bypassing [the] dollar-based system,” he said, but gave no details.

India has worried its western partners by considering the viability of a rupee-rouble arrangement that could help keep trade with Russia flowing and sidestep US-imposed financial restrictions. Gina Raimondo, US commerce secretary, said this week it would be "deeply disappointing" if India were to pursue the sanctions-busting mechanism.

Although India and Russia’s bilateral trade is modest at about $8 billion a year, the Asian nation has strategic reasons to maintain financial ties: Moscow has been New Delhi’s primary arms supplier for decades.

And while India gets most of its oil from the Middle East, data showed Russian oil imports to India were set to quadruple in March.

Daleep Singh, US deputy national security adviser, told journalists in New Delhi on Thursday that Washington "would not like to see... a rapid acceleration of India's imports from Russia as it relates to energy".

Discounted Russian oil

But Mr Jaishankar defended purchases of discounted Russian oil by Indian buyers. India still sourced less than 1 per cent of its overall oil needs from Russia, Mr Jaishankar said, but “when oil prices go up, I think it’s natural for countries to go out into the market and look for what are good deals for their people”.

In a few months, "I suspect we won't be in the top 10" buyers of Russian oil and gas", Mr Jaishankar added during a frosty public exchange with visiting UK foreign secretary Liz Truss.

The UK Foreign Office said the visit was “part of a wider diplomatic push following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

Mr Lavrov subsequently told reporters that he had discussed rupee-ruble trade with India, adding Moscow doesn’t “want to depend on a system which will be closed anytime”.

“We will be ready to supply to India any goods which it wants to buy from us,” he said. “Russia and India have very good relations.”

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022