Old friends: On Russia-India bilateral ties and the Ukraine issue 

While strengthening ties with Russia, India must make its stand against the war clear

April 20, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 01:46 am IST

Growing and balancing India-Russia trade ties dominated the agenda of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov’s India visit and the Inter-governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation meet he chaired with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. They hailed the surge in bilateral trade (up by 2.6 times in the past year, and at about $45 billion), surpassing the 2025 target. Both sides noted the problem of trade imbalance, calling for more market access and the use of “national currencies” to circumvent sanctions. Mr. Manturov suggested that Indian companies could increase exports in road construction and pharmaceuticals. Mr. Jaishankar said that Indian businesses should guard against “over-compliance” when it comes to increasing trade with Russia, due to concerns over western sanctions. They also referred to progress in negotiations for an FTA between India and the Eurasian Economic Union, that was launched in 2017. Its signing could catapult trade, which has been the laggard in bilateral ties dominated by defence, nuclear and space cooperation.

While the impetus in trade and the effort to balance imports and exports with an important partner (Russia) are welcome, it is hard to ignore the circumstances surrounding these developments. Since Russia’s war in Ukraine began last year, and western sanctions drastically cut Russian exports, Moscow has turned increasingly to India and other countries including China that have not joined the sanctions to export resources. India’s oil imports from Russia (a negligible 0.2%), have jumped since the war to a massive 28% of its total oil intake, contributing to trade as well as a growing deficit. While the Ukraine Foreign Minister’s accusation that India has “blood” on its hands by buying Russian oil is overstating the case, the impression that New Delhi is “benefitting from the war” is gaining traction in western countries, which must be noted, especially as Mr. Modi will soon visit Japan, Australia, the U.S. and France, and also welcome Mr. Putin for the SCO summit in Delhi in July. Mr. Jaishankar’s contention that India-Russia ties are among the “steadiest of the major relationships of the world” is well-made, especially at a time of global turmoil and shifting alliances, and provides the basis for the warm welcome to Mr. Manturov. What is harder to explain is that no public comment was made by any Indian leader during any of Mr. Manturov’s meetings in Delhi, about the original reason for the current turmoil and its global economic impact: Moscow’s decision to launch attacks on its neighbour, and the bombing of civilians, that has continued for over a year.

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