US, allies step up pressure prior to Jaishankar-Lavrov meet

Amiti Sen | | Updated on: Mar 31, 2022
 External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, during their meeting in New Delhi.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, during their meeting in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: -

New Delhi asked to reduce strategic dependency on Russia; not to support undermining of sanctions

India is walking a tough diplomatic tightrope over the Russia-Ukraine crisis with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in town to discuss energy and defence deals and, more importantly, alternative payment mechanisms while the US and its allies stepped up the pressure, terming India’s engagement with Russia “deeply disappointing’’.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who also landed in New Delhi on Thursday a few hours before Lavrov,  made the objective of her visit absolutely clear even before her discussions with her Indian counterpart S Jaishankar.

“Foreign Secretary travels to India as part of wider diplomatic push on Ukraine... The Foreign Secretary will point to the importance of all countries reducing strategic dependency on Russia at this time of heightened global insecurity,” an official statement issued by the British High Commission in New Delhi on Thursday pointed out.

New sanctions on Russia

Truss announced 14 new sanctions targeting Russian state media and the “Kremlin mouthpieces who spew Putin’s propaganda” while in New Delhi indicating the mood of the visit.

India has so far done a balancing act on the Russia-Ukraine crisis by condemning the violence in Ukraine but abstaining from motions against Russia at the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Commission. It has also remained open to the possibility of carrying out new energy deals with Russia, especially since Moscow could provide discounts, while continuing to make defence purchases.

The UK Foreign Secretary’s expectations from India echoed those made by the US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan on Wednesday. Both expressed concern over India reportedly considering Russia’s proposal for an alternative payment mechanism that would undermine sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.

“Now is the time to stand on the right side of history, and to stand with the United States and dozens of other countries, standing up for freedom, democracy and sovereignty with the Ukrainian people, and not funding and fueling and aiding President Putin’s war,” Raimondo told reporters.

Tehan said that it was important for democracies to work together to keep the rules-based approach that was prevalent since the second world war.

Visiting US Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics Daleep Singh, who met Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Thursday, told reporters that while the US will not set any “red line” for India on its energy imports from Russia, it did not want to see a rapid acceleration in purchases.

“What we would not like to see is a rapid acceleration of India’s imports from Russia as it relates to energy or any other any other exports that are currently being prohibited by the US or by other aspects of the international sanctions regime,” he said.

While acknowledging that US financial sanctions exempted energy payments and there were no current prohibitions on energy imports from Russia, Singh said the US and its European allies had a shared interest in reducing their reliance on an unreliable energy supplier such as Russia.

 Without mincing words, the US Deputy NSA said the US was keen for all countries not to create mechanisms that prop up the rouble and that attempt to undermine the dollar-based financial system. There will be consequences for countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill sanctions against Russia, he added.

Lavrov to meet today

The pressure stepped up by the Western nations prior to Jaishankar’s meeting with Lavrov is likely to weigh heavy on him as he meets his Russian counterpart on Friday.

 Lavrov may not just want to discuss possible discounted energy deals and defence and security contracts with India but also a payment system reportedly developed by the Russian central bank for bilateral payments, that would provide an alternative to the SWIFT system. Seven major Russian banks have been disconnected from the SWIFT system making it difficult for Russia to trade with other countries.

Lavrov, who has flown to India after visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, may have made things more difficult for India by talking about creating a “multipolar, just and democratic world order’’ with China and other sympathisers.

(With inputs from agencies)

Published on March 31, 2022
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