External affairs minister S. Jaishankar. (PTI Photo)
New Delhi: The West has "squeezed every source of oil" that India had access to earlier, including from Iran and Venezuela, and if Europe is continuing to buy Russian gas despite the Ukraine conflict there is no reason why India cannot buy oil at competitive prices including from Russia, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said on Friday.
He was speaking during an interview at the Globsec 2022 Forum at the Slovak Capital Bratislava where he is on an official visit. The EAM said, "Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe's problems are the world's problems but the world's problems are not Europe's problems," adding that the European view seemed to be that "if it is you, it’s yours (crisis) . If it is me, it’s ours."
The EAM said India would not accept any "construct" based on choosing between a Western camp and a Russia-China camp, adding that India was entitled to make its choices after examining the issues. He told the interviewer, "This is the construct that you are trying to impose on me and I don't accept it.... My choices will not be cynical or transactional. There will be a balance of my values and my interests. There is no country in the world that disregards its interests. I am not sitting on the fence. I am sitting on my ground. The world cannot be that Eurocentric as it used to be in the past."
Asked about India buying nine times the amount of Russian oil since last year, the EAM said the Indian oil imports from Russia were from a "very low base", meaning that India imported very less previously. He also referred to how fresh European sanctions on Russian energy had been levied in such a way that the population of Europe would not be exposed to shocks.
Jaishankar said, "If you (Europe) can be considerate of yourself, surely you can be considerate of other people. So if Europe says we have to manage it in a way that impact on my economy is not traumatic, that freedom or choice should exist for other people as well."
He added, "Today Europe is buying oil and gas (from Russia). I just read the new package of sanctions. It is designed in a way in which consideration has been given to the welfare of the population. So pipelines have a certain carve-out. And timelines have been given. It's not as if everything is going to be cut off tomorrow morning."
The EAM said India had to place certain restrictions on its wheat exports to stop global speculation in wheat stocks and possible hoarding by traders based out of Singapore and Dubai. "What we saw happening to vaccines, we don't want it to happen to the wheat. The rich people got vaccinated and the poor were left (out)... .," he pointed out.
The EAM stated, "The Ukraine conflict is creating a huge food, fuel and fertiliser crisis. ... Everybody in India is disturbed by the conflict ... they see the pictures... it has begun to impact people's lives, the petrol costs, the wheat cost ... it will impact farmers as they get along with sowing. ... when it disrupts the economy, it shows up in employment."
Asked whether Indian purchases of Russian oil were not funding Russian military operations in Ukraine as per the European argument, the EAM said, "We don't send people out there saying go buy Russian oil. We send people out there saying go buy oil. Buy the best oil that you can in the market. I don't think I would attach a political messaging to that. Is (Europe) buying Russian gas not funding the war? Is it only Indian money oil coming to India that funds but not gas coming to Europe that funds (the Ukraine conflict)?"
"Let's be even-handed out here. Why don't they allow Iranian and Venezuelan oil into the market? They've squeezed every source of oil that we have. And then say you must not go to the market and get the best deal for your people. That's not a fair approach," he said. Dismissing certain allegations of profiteering, Mr. Jaishankar said, A country like India would be crazy to get oil and sell it to someone else (at higher prices). This is nonsense."
On China, the EAM said, "We are going through a difficult patch in our relationship with China. We've had our differences in the past but we never had a situation where, after 1962, where agreements over not bringing forces to the border have been disregarded. A very large number of forces have been brought to the border. We've had a clash. People have died. And this has not happened now. It happened two years ago. ... It's also a useful reminder to Europe that there were other things happening in the rest of the world which sometimes Europe perhaps doesn't pay enough attention to."
In response to a question on India’s refusal to condemn Russia and why the West should back India against China, the EAM said many would in turn ask "why would anyone in Asia trust Europe at all," adding, "We have a difficult position with China. We're perfectly capable of managing it. If we get global support, obviously it is of help to me. But it's not a transaction ... I could point to a lot of issues where Europe has held its peace. ... Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe's problems are the world's problems but the world's problems are not Europe's problems. If it is you, it's yours. If it is me, it's ours."