BANGKOK, Aug 17: The US and some others may not appreciate India buying Russian oil, but they have accepted it as New Delhi has not been defensive about its stand but made them realise that the government had the “moral duty” to ensure that the people got the “best deal”, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said.
Jaishankar, who arrived here on Tuesday to attend the 9th India-Thailand Joint Commission Meeting, took part 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 of India have diverted their supplies to Europe, which is buying less oil from Russia.
Oil prices are “unreasonably high” and so are the gas prices. 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.
He said India is not doing it in a “defensive way”.
“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.
He said it was the government’s “obligation” and “moral duty” to ensure that the people in India get the “best deal.”
“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,” he said when asked about the impact of buying Russian oil on India’s ties with the US.
“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.
At a media briefing on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that when India procures, discounted crude oil from Russia, it has to understand that the oil has a portion “Ukrainian blood”. He said he had expected more support from India.
A senior Indian government official said 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.
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.
Speaking on India-Thailand ties he 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.
He said the objective of the joint commission is to build greater political comfort, to increase trade, to look at the barriers which stand in the way to promote more economic activity and more investments between our countries and 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 said.
He said the Indian community has a role in strengthening the bilateral relationship.
Jaishankar shared how India went through the ‘agnipariksha’ during the coronavirus pandemic and lessons 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.
“This agnipariksha, we have actually come through it with a great deal of learning, new capabilities, and strong confidence with a sense that as a country, as a society and as a people, we 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 coming back to our high growth trajectory and we will be the fastest growing major economy this year and probably the foreseeable future,” he said.
“We dealt even with the COVID and followed a form of fiscal prudent policy,” he said.
It is a policy where we ensured social stability where weak, and vulnerable were secured, Jaishankar said.
“…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. (PTI)