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US Treasury official sets off for India to push it away from buying Russian oil

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)
The undated photo shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and US President Joe Biden.

A US administration official has set off for India to convince New Delhi not to purchase Russian oil amid ramped-up Western pressure on Moscow over the military operation in Ukraine.

A Treasury Department spokesman said Elizabeth Rosenberg, the assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, will visit New Delhi and Mumbai on Thursday. “It's important to talk to the parts of the world that are strong US partners on a whole host of other issues, and make sure we're in close contact about our sanctions regime and working together to crack down on any evasion opportunities or evasion activities.”

India imports almost 80 percent of its oil from abroad. It buys only two to three 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.

India boosted Russian oil imports in April to about 277,000 barrels per day (bpd), up from 66,000 bpd in March. New Delhi says Russia is also offering oil and other commodities at a large discount.

Senior US officials have said a significant increase in Russian oil exports by India could expose New Delhi to a "great risk" as Washington prepares to step up sanctions against Moscow. The current sanctions do not prevent other countries from buying Russian oil. But the administration of President Joe Biden has considered so-called secondary sanctions that could restrict those purchases.

At a four-country summit in Japan on Tuesday, Biden reportedly asked India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to accelerate the purchase of Russian oil. They were in Tokyo for a meeting of the Quad group of countries – the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The summit came on the final day of Biden’s five-day visit to Japan and South Korea, which was his first trip to Asia as president. The Indian prime minister made no public commitment to stop importing Russian oil. Modi also did not point to Russia's offensive in his public remarks at the summit.

Biden has termed India’s conduct “somewhat shaky” in its response to the Russian operation in Ukraine.

Last month, the US president warned India, which has taken a neutral stance on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, that buying more oil from Russia was not in the Indian interest.

New Delhi has tried to balance its relations with Moscow and the West and refused to join the Western countries in the United Nations to condemn the Kremlin’s military offensive in Ukraine.

A Cold War ally of the Soviet Union, India has traditionally maintained pro-Russia positions. But it has also been wary of antagonizing Washington, which remains its biggest trade partner.

Both Ukraine and Russia have been important trade partners for New Delhi, but its relations with Moscow go beyond trade and commerce.

As a formidable regional player, India sees strong ties with Russia of huge strategic significance.

The India-Russia bilateral trade stood at $9.4 billion this fiscal year, as against $8.1 billion in the last fiscal. The two regional bulwarks have set a target of $30 billion in bilateral trade by the end of 2025.

India is heavily dependent on Russia for oil and gas. State-run Gas Authority of India Limited inked a 20-year deal with Russia’s Gazprom in 2018 for 2.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year.

The two countries also have strong defense ties. Last year, they signed an agreement to extend their military technology cooperation for the next decade. India’s acquisition of Russia-made S-400 missile systems has also bolstered their defense ties.

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