Russian Foreign Minister to visit Delhi this week

Focus on ironing out rupee-rouble payment mechanism, defence supply disruptions

Updated - March 28, 2022 10:27 am IST

Published - March 27, 2022 09:06 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

File photo of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. | Photo Credit: AP

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Delhi this week for official meetings, as the war in Ukraine completes one month, sources confirmed. The visit, the first by a senior Russian official since President Vladimir Putin declared war on the neighbouring country, comes amidst a flurry of trips by several leaders from the Western-backed sanctions regime, seeking a shift in India's position, which has not criticised Moscow for the invasion.

Mr. Lavrov's visit is expected to focus on strategic issues resulting from the war, as well as specific discussions on purchasing Russian oil, payment mechanisms, given sanctions against Russian banks and exclusion from the SWIFT, and possible disruptions in the supply of military hardware. The Modi government indicated in Parliament last week that it is considering offers of discounted Russian oil and a special inter-ministerial group headed by the Finance Ministry is looking into the payments issues for Indian importers and exporters that arise from the war and Western sanctions.

Bank team to visit India

Sources told The Hindu that there will be technical talks between the Russian Central Bank or Bank of Russia and the Reserve Bank of India this week, and a team would travel to India ahead of Mr. Lavrov's visit, to further discuss setting up payment structures.

India would also be looking for clarity and assurances from Russia on timely delivery of spares and components for systems in use and of the deals underway including S-400 and Ak-203 assault rifles among others, as well as streamlining the rupee-rouble payment system for any future purchases.

Ahead of Mr. Lavrov's visit, newly appointed Russian Ambassador Denis Alipov called on three of the senior-most officials in the Ministry of External Affairs last week: Secretary (West) Sanjay Verma, Secretary (East) Saurabh Kumar, and Secretary (Economic Relations) Dammu Ravi. In tweets, Mr. Alipov said he held exchanges on Russia-India cooperation at the United Nations, G-20, and other multilateral platforms.

Mr. Lavrov's visit will be seen as an outreach to India as the U.S. and European allies increase pressure to "isolate" Russia, and increase defence exports to Ukraine and neighbouring countries, and call on other countries to support their efforts.

G-20 grouping

U.S. President Joe Biden said last week that he was discussing the possibility of ousting Russia from the G-20 grouping, with the next summit to be held in Bali, Indonesia in November this year. When asked, officials said India, which would host the G20 summit in 2023, was unlikely to support such a move.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Mexican Foreign Minister Ebrard will be in Delhi mid-week as well, while Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz will arrive ahead of Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennet's visit next Sunday. In addition, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are expected to travel to the U.S. to meet their counterparts Antony Blinken and Gen. Lloyd Austin later this month, where possible U.S. sanctions on the S400 purchase could come up.

‘The common element’

Mr. Lavrov's visit will follow days after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi travelled to Delhi, and discussed the Ukraine issue, among others with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Jaishankar, where Mr. Jaishankar said the "common element" in thinking on the crisis was the need for an immediate ceasefire and return to dialogue and diplomacy. Mr. Lavrov is likely to travel to Beijing as well, for bilateral talks and a conference on Afghanistan.

India has consistently abstained from all resolutions at the United Nations criticising Russia thus far, and called for talks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also spoken to Mr. Putin and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a number of times on the telephone between February 24 and March 7 while Indian students were being transported back from Ukraine, and diplomats have suggested he could help mediate a resolution.

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