‘Wrong side of history’: US warns India against crude imports from Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden.

In a veiled warning, the US government has asked India to consider its place in “history books” as the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi mulls Russia’s offer for discounted crude oil.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said India’s plan to purchase cheaper crude from Moscow would amount to supporting the Russian “leadership”.

It comes as tensions between the US-led NATO military alliance and Russia continue to escalate amid the latter’s military operation in neighboring Ukraine, which has now entered its fourth week.

India, which imports almost 80 percent of its oil from abroad, buys just 2 to 3 percent from Russia.

However, with oil prices soaring dramatically amid the disruption in the global energy market, New Delhi is reportedly considering an attractive offer from Moscow.

“Russia is offering oil and other commodities at a heavy discount. We will be happy to take that," an Indian government official was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

The official said such oil trade needed preparatory work including transportation, insurance cover, and getting the right mix of crude, without specifying the amount of oil and discount on offer.

Reacting to the reports, Psaki said nations should consider their role in history when dealing with Moscow amid the Ukraine crisis, but added that the move would not involve economic penalties.

“Our message to any country continues to be, obviously, abide by the sanctions,” she said.

“I don’t think this would be violating [the sanctions], but think about where you want to stand when the history books are written in this moment in time. And support for the Russian leadership is support for an invasion that obviously is having a devastating impact.”

According to reports, India and Russia are presently working out a bilateral trade mechanism involving rupees and rubles, on the line of a deal between Saudi Arabia and China in Chinese currency, yuan.

India’s petroleum and natural gas minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, speaking in the parliament on Tuesday confirmed that the government was engaged in discussions with Russia on crude oil purchases.

“I myself have had a conversation with the appropriate levels of the Russian federation. There are discussions currently underway,” he told lawmakers.

While the United States has completely banned Russian oil imports, the European Union has issued sanctions against some Russian companies, stopping short of fully banning the purchase of Russian oil.

India, a key trade partner of Russia, has abstained from voting against Moscow at the United Nations, which many attribute to its dependence on Russian weapons and oil.

Western countries, including the US, have decried Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine as unprovoked, but Moscow says the “special operation” aims to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the country after years of fighting between the Kiev government and separatists in the breakaway Donbas region.

US officials have refused to comment on whether India would face sanctions if Russia sends S-400 missile systems as part of a $5.5 billion deal signed in 2018.

Ely Ratner, US assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told a US Congress hearing last week that India was diversifying its defense suppliers.

"We recognize that India has a complicated history and relationship with Russia. The majority of the weapons that they buy are from the Russians," he said.

"The good news is that they are in a multi-year process of diversifying their arms purchases away from Russia -- that's going to take some time. But they are clearly committed to doing that, including the indigenization of their own defense industry and that's something we should support,” he added.

Indian-American Congressman Dr. Ami Bera believes that if India goes ahead to buy Russian oil at a steeply discounted rate, it would be “choosing to side with Vladimir Putin”,

"If reports are accurate and India makes this decision to buy Russian oil at a discounted price, New Delhi would be choosing to side with Vladimir Putin at a pivotal moment in history when countries across the world are united in support of the Ukrainian people and against Russia's deadly invasion," he said.

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