External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar meeting Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow

NEW DELHI: India’s strong and vigorous diplomatic campaign over the last several months has finally paid off, with the United States and its allies in the West softening on the opposition to New Delhi’s decision to continue to purchase discounted oil from Russia. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Washington and its western allies leaned on countries including India to buy either less or no oil from Russia in a bid to punish Moscow for its military operations against Kyiv. But India did the opposite, justifying and defending its stand to continue to buy Russian oil.

New Delhi reached out to the western countries through diplomatic channels in a bid to persuade them to shed their obduracy. The positive signals came from various countries from time to time. In a big development, now the US has said that India’s buying of Russian oil was a “sovereign decision”. When asked about the increase in petroleum purchases by India from Russia in recent months, Elizabeth Jones, the newly-appointed US charge d’affaires in New Delhi, said: “It’s a sovereign decision. It has to be a sovereign decision.” The top US diplomat’s remark acquires significance as it has come in the backdrop of India’s assertion that it will continue with the purchases in its national interests. Germany, France, UK and some other key western countries have already dropped their opposition to India continuing oil purchases from Moscow. There are only some EU nations which have not changed their mind, but they will fall in line with others soon, diplomatic sources told The Sunday Guardian.

“Britain respects India’s decision to buy discounted oil from Russia.” This remark from the then British Foreign Minister Liz Truss was significant because it came amid Britain’s policy to pursue more sanctions against Russia. “I think it’s very important that we respect other countries’ decisions about the issues that they face; India is a sovereign nation. I’m not going to tell India what to do,” Truss had said at a presser.

Diplomatic sources, who are working closely with the Rishi Sunak government in London, told The Sunday Guardian that the new UK Prime Minister has approved Truss’ line on this issue. Sources said that during his bilateral talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bali, PM Sunak was not against India buying Russian oil. Sources said that French President Emmanuel Macron, during talks with PM Modi also did not express any reservation over India buying oil from Russia. Germany is also going with the US and France in dropping opposition to the same. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who is scheduled to visit New Delhi on 5-6 December is likely to make her country’s stand clear on Russian oil import, which will be in favour of India’s decision, say sources.

“In fact, leading the diplomatic campaign from the front, PM Modi unequivocally defended India’s rationale to purchase crude from Russia,” sources said. India’s defence has been that it is buying oil to meet the energy demands of its citizens and to cushion inflationary impact that the war between Russia and Ukraine is creating. Under the leadership of PM Modi, India stood up to bullying of the US and other European nations and continued to import Russian crude oil. The message was loud and clear that New Delhi would not change its decision on oil import no matter what, say diplomats.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar played a crucial role in tackling the situation. He slammed Europe for its constant criticism of India for purchasing Russian oil even as he questioned the US’ decision not to lift the sanctions on Iranian and Venezuelan oil. “Today, Europe is buying [Russian] oil, Europe is buying [Russian] gas… The new package of sanctions (European sanctions on Russia) is designed in a way where consideration has been given to the welfare of its population… People need to understand that if you can be considerate to yourself, surely you can be considerate to others,” Jaishankar said. These remarks came out as a strong message to the US and its allies in the West, say sources. Not just Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has also often reiterated that India will continue buying cheap Russian oil in the nation’s interest. “I would put my energy security first. If the fuel is available at a discount, why shouldn’t I buy it?” Sitharaman said last month. Again, after meeting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow recently, Jaishankar said that buying Russian oil was to India’s advantage and India would continue doing that.

While the US and its allies have softened their stand vis-à-vis India buying Russian oil, the European Union has come up with a plan to impose certain restrictions on Russian oil. The EU wants to cap the price of Russian oil at US$60 as part of the West’s attempt to squeeze Moscow’s oil revenues. Top diplomatic sources said that India is not going to be affected by this move by the EU, and New Delhi will continue to import Russian oil despite all this. PM Modi has already opposed any restriction on supply of fuel in the backdrop of EU’s plan to impose a price cap on Russian oil. Sources said that India would continue to buy discounted Russian oil notwithstanding the EU price cap.