NEW DELHI, Dec 5 (PTI): India on Monday stoutly defended its import of crude oil from Russia amid the Ukraine conflict with external affairs minister S Jaishankar asserting that New Delhi’s procurement was just one-sixth of the European purchase in last nine months, in comments that came as a G7 price cap on Russian crude at USD 60 a barrel came into effect.
At a media briefing after holding wide-ranging talks with visiting German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, Jaishankar also noted that Europe can’t make choices to prioritise its energy needs while asking New Delhi to do something else, asserting that discussions between India and Russia to expand the trade basket started much before beginning of the Ukraine conflict.
The two foreign ministers also inked a bilateral mobility pact that will make it easier for people to study and work in each other’s country even as the two sides vowed to ramp up cooperation in areas of defence and security, trade, climate change and clean energy.
In the joint presser, the German foreign minister, referring to increasing Chinese assertiveness, said China has changed very much over the last few years and “I think the whole region can see this and feel this”.
“In Germany, we have seen what it means when you become strongly dependent on one country, a country that does not share your values. So with a view to the political and security policy aspects and developments in the region, we will closely cooperate with our partners in the region,” she said.
Baerbock, who arrived here on Monday morning on a two-day visit, also assured cutting delays in issuance of visas to Indians. The situation in Afghanistan, developments in Indo-Pacific and cross-border terrorism from Pakistan also figured in the talks.
To a question on India’s import of crude oil from Russia, Jaishankar strongly justified it and said New Delhi and Moscow have been engaged in talks to expand trade relations much before February 24 when the Ukraine conflict began.
Jaishankar’s strong comments came as a G7 cap on the price of Russian oil at USD 60 a barrel came into effect.
“I understand that there is a conflict situation (in Ukraine). I also understand that Europe has a point of view and Europe will make the choices it will make that is Europe’s right. But for Europe to make choices which prioritises its energy needs and then ask India to do something else..,” he said.
Jaishankar said Europe’s purchase of crude oil from the Middle-East is also putting pressure on prices.
“And bear in mind, today, Europe is buying a lot (of crude oil) from the Middle-East. The Middle-East was traditionally a supplier for an economy like India. So it puts pressure on prices in the Middle-East as well. We have been very very understanding of the European choices and European policies,” Jaishankar said.
The external affairs minister also said Europe bought much more fossil fuel than India between February and November.
“I think first we need to establish the facts very clearly. Between February 24 and November 17, the European Union has imported more fossil fuel from Russia than the next 10 countries combined. The oil import in the European Union is like six times what India has imported. Gas is infinite because we do not import it while the European Union imported 50 billion Euros worth (of gas),” Jaishankar said.
He said even coal imports from Russia by the European Union is 50 per cent more than India’s import.
India’s import of Russian oil has seen a significant increase in the last few months. New Delhi has been maintaining that it is its fundamental obligation to ensure that Indian consumers have the best possible access on the most advantageous terms to the international markets.
In her opening remarks at the media briefing, Baerbock talked about the global impact of the “brutal war of aggression of Russia against Ukraine” while describing it as an “illegal war” that has brought the whole world to a “very difficult situation”
“It also created difficulties for your country (India) when it comes to energy supply and fertilisers,” she said.
On India’s overall position on the conflict, Jaishankar said it has been “very clear and very public”.
“The Indian position articulated by my prime minister is that this is not an era of war and that dialogue and diplomacy is the answer. It is a position which by the way the G20 has also accepted. It found expression in their Bali declaration,” he said.
Jaishankar said what the basis for the dialogue should be is something the countries concerned will have to decide. “It is not for India to specify or to advocate.” Asked whether Russia shared a list of items with India for trade, Jaishankar only said both sides have been discussing how to expand trade.
The external affairs minister said India’s trade with Russia is “quite small” and it has been in the USD 12-USD 13 billion dollar range.
At the moment, the ongoing discussion is on what either side can import from each other.
“I think the large part of it would be determined by the market because in our country, business is mostly in private sector hands. But I do not think people should read anything more into it rather than the legitimate expectations of any trading country to increase its trade,” he said.
Asked about challenges from China, Baerbock said Germany is pursuing a strategy that has three parts. “China is seen as a partner in global challenges, a competitor and increasingly as a rival as well.”
“China has changed very much over the last few years and I think the whole region can see this and feel this. So the exchange with the actors in the region is very important to us, especially India as a direct neighbour. This is very important for us to have a good assessment of the challenges ahead,” she said.
She said Germany is looking at bolstering cooperation with India on the Indo-Pacific.
“There is huge potential for German and European companies. Until now we have been focusing on China and Japan…When it comes to India, we both highlighted that there is huge potential for further cooperation both in terms of economic ties and security situation,” she said.
Asked whether Germany now considers India as “substitute partner” for China, the minister said “no”, adding, “India has always been a partner for Germany and a partner for the European Union as well.”
The German foreign minister’s visit is seen as part of preparations for a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to India next year.
In their talks, the two foreign ministers also touched upon India’s G-20 presidency, reform of the UN Security Council and cooperation in third countries.
“We have a common interest in ensuring not just a stronger global economy, but also a more secure global economy. It was really a very productive morning,” Jaishankar said.
On the mobility pact, the Ministry of External Affairs said it is testimony to India’s rapidly expanding multi-faceted strategic partnership with Germany.
“The German Skilled Immigration Act 2020 has expanded the opportunities for workers from non-EU countries. Through a new law to be adopted in early 2023, Germany’s government proposes to significantly facilitate the immigration of qualified workers from abroad,” it said.
The MEA said the pact is part of overall efforts to create a network of agreements with prospective labour market destination countries with twin objectives of creating a favourable visa regime for Indians towards accessing the labour market of these countries.
“The Agreement has specific provisions to facilitate mobility and employment opportunities for fostering exchange of skills and talents,” it said.
These include an academic evaluation centre in New Delhi, 18 months extended residence permits to students, 3,000 job seeker visas annually, liberalised short stay multiple entry visas and streamlined readmission procedures.