Look at Europe, not India when it comes to Russian oil: Jaishankar

New York: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has given a resounding retort to an Al-Jazeera reporter asking her to look at Europe when she said India risked sanctions for currency arrangements for energy purchases.

“If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe,” he said, and after pausing dramatically as if making a mental calculation, he added, “Probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon. So you might want to think about that.”

Many reporters were obsessed with India’s oil purchases from Russia, asking questions about it at the three briefings on Monday after the 2+2 meeting of Jaishankar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, as they have at earlier briefings.

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Yet, they haven’t raised the possibility of sanctions against European allies of the US that buy far more oil.

Blinken pointed out, “When it comes to oil purchases, sanctions, et cetera, I’d just note that there are carveouts for energy purchases.”

The exception for energy purchases was made to accommodate the interests of European countries.

Earlier, answering a question on India’s oil purchases, President Joe Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki noted that it was only 1 to 2 per cent, while India bought about 10 per cent of its energy needs from the US.

The Qatar government TV network’s reporter lobbed a question in a hectoring tone, “Why not condemn Russia’s invasion? Wouldn’t this best reflect India’s foreign policy goals and international standing?”

Jaishankar replied sarcastically, “So first of all, thank you for the advice and suggestions in your question. I prefer to do it my way and articulate it my way.”

“Now, as Secretary Blinken has pointed out, we have made a number of statements which outline our position in the UN, in our Parliament, and in other forums. And briefly, what those positions state is that we’re against the conflict; we are for dialogue and diplomacy; we are for an urgent cessation of violence, and we are prepared to contribute in multiple ways to these objectives,” he said.

While Qatar voted on one General Assembly resolution condemning Russia, it abstained alongside India on the resolution to suspend Moscow from the UN Human Rights Council.

A reporter for the Japanese Nikkei news service asked Jaishankar that with concerns over Russia aligning closely with China, “do you think India has to reduce reliance on Russia economically and militarily as soon as possible?”

Jaishankar gave an answer dripping with sarcasm: “This seems to be my day to get a lot of advice and suggestions from the press, so thank you for joining that.”

Speaking up for diplomats and strategists, Jaishankar told the reporter, “The world will keep changing. What we have to do in our profession is to watch it and see how your interests are best advanced in that.”

He said, “We watch what’s happening in the world, like any country does, and we draw our conclusions and make our assessments. And believe me, we have a decent sense of what is in our interest and know how to protect it and advance it.”

“What has changed is we have more options than we did before,” he said.

“We are standing here for a 2+2 with a substantial defence collaboration which has happened in the last decade, which we have been discussing how to take forward. And this wasn’t an option which was there for 40 years before that,” he explained.

Blinken also said, “Times have changed. Today we are able and willing to be a partner of choice with India across virtually every realm – commerce, technology, education, and security.”.

“India’s relationship with Russia has developed over decades at a time when the United States was not able to be a partner to India,” he noted.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in and followed @arulouis)

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