Russia and India are looking at ways to “bypass” the sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union and partners, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday after talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Mr. Lavrov, who flew into Delhi from Beijing a week after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi before his departure.
“Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of violence, and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts,” Mr. Modi’s office said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Lavrov specifically discussed India’s concerns over the impact of the Ukraine crisis on its economy, noting that it was “important” to ensure that their economic and technological contacts remain “stable and predictable”.
“EAM [Jaishankar] underlined that as a developing economy, global volatility in different domains is of particular concern to India. It is important for both countries that their economic, technological and people to people contacts remain stable and predictable,” a statement by the MEA said.
Visits by U.S., western officials
Mr. Lavrov’s arrived on Thursday after visits by senior officials of the U.S., EU and the U.K. this week, all of whom cautioned India about attempting to circumvent the financial sanctions put in place by them, by using a non-dollar “rupee rouble” payment mechanism. They also expressed the hope that India would not further increase its oil intake from Russia, which has already grown in the past few weeks.
While the MEA made no response to the comments, including a direct warning from U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor that there would be “consequences” to such actions, Mr. Lavrov lashed out at the “West” for attempting to “blackmail” India and other countries that are not part of the sanctions, like China.
“I have no doubt that a way would be found to bypass the artificial impediments which illegal unilateral sanctions by the West create. This relates also to the area of military and technical cooperation. We have no doubt that the solution would be found and respective ministries are working,” Mr. Lavrov said at a press conference after his bilateral talks, making it clear that Russia is moving ahead with both India and China on the use of national currencies rather than the dollar-based international systems, and these efforts would be “intensified”.
Earlier this week, a team from Russia’s central bank met Reserve Bank of India officials to try and iron out payment issues and identification of banks immunised from the sanctions network.
Moving to national currencies
“The reason for moving to national currencies is the absolutely unreliable nature of our western counterparts. We don’t want to depend on the system which could be closed anytime, whose masters can steal your money overnight,” Mr. Lavrov remarked, referring to the decision to eject Russian banks from the global SWIFT payment system, and to freeze Russia’s foreign reserves.
Defending Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Mr. Lavrov claimed there was no “war”, only a “special operation” conducted on military infrastructure, with an attempt to avoid civilian casualties.
UN OHCHR figures put the number of civilians killed until March 31 above 3,100.
In his opening remarks at the bilateral talks held at Hyderabad House, Mr. Jaishankar said the meeting took place “in a difficult international environment”. “India, as you are aware, has always been in favour of resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and diplomacy,” he said in an oblique reference to the Russian war in Ukraine.
The MEA statement said that Mr. Jaishankar also stressed the principles of “respect for international law, U.N. Charter, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.” In response, Mr. Lavrov praised the Indian government for not paying heed to “western attempts” to link all international issues to the Ukraine situation, and for seeing the crisis in the “entirety” of the situation.
Both delegations included the officials dealing with Afghanistan and Iran, Zamir Kabulov and Joint Secretary J.P. Singh.
The MEA statement added that Mr. Lavrov briefed Mr. Jaishankar about the latest developments.
‘Will not bow to western pressure’
In his public comments, Mr. Lavrov observed that countries like Russia, India and China would not bow to pressure from the West, and that the India-Russia partnership would not change in the face of any pressure. “Those who try to implement such approaches do not understand the national identities of those countries with which they try to speak using ultimatums and blackmail.”
In the past week, the visiting EU special envoy, German NSA, U.S. Deputy NSA and U.K. Foreign Minister Liz Truss were all sharply critical of Russia and bid to strengthen its engagement in India. New Delhi had heard from U.S. President Joe Biden, who called India “somewhat shaky” amongst the Quad members. A White House official said India’s stand at the U.N., where it abstained on all votes censuring Russia was “unsatisfactory but unsurprising”, and the U.S. Commerce secretary stated that any attempt by India to subvert sanctions on Russia would be “deeply disappointing”.