DC Edit | India must feel free to buy Russian oil

It appears all is fair when it comes to exploring energy sources in the face of spiralling oil costs

There is no moral dilemma to India buying Russian oil. The difficulties that India faces are in balancing its international relations when its ties with the United States have been at their best ever. The US hint to India about the need to stay off Russian oil comes at a time when nations, including those from the West, are trying to strike a geopolitical balance between Joe Biden’s campaign to unite the world against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine and how much of an economic hit to take in the wake of sanctions.

It must be stressed that, even at a time of extreme sanctions against Russia, there is no embargo on buying its energy exports. It can be said that by importing huge quantities of Russian gas and oil to the tune of about $700 mn a day, Europe is financing Vladimir Putin’s war machine that is set to take its first Ukrainian city of Mariupol. Of course, Mr Putin’s aggression against a country that offers Russia no threat means that no one, including most of all the far right in Europe and Trumpists in America, can continue to unabashedly admire the Russian supremo.

India’s position on Ukraine has been crystal clear in standing by Russia despite the invasion, which none including the Russian Ambassador to the UN can deny. Even China has been more conflicted in its stand on Ukraine — though it projects itself, like India, as a neutral power, China says it respects Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, which position India has not explicitly taken. The Russian oil plays an insignificant part in India’s geostrategic interests which are better served by its large defence purchases from Russia, its dependence on that country for keeping its forces armed being huge.

Considering that India has so far been contracting to buy only a little more than a day’s requirements of about six million barrels from European traders dealing in Russian oil — India’s consumption of oil is projected to touch 5.5 mn barrels a day in the course of 2022 — the principle is far more challenging than the import itself. The West’s own ambivalence is in focus now that it is said to be also contracting to buy Iranian crude, which had hitherto been facing US-led nuclear-allied sanctions. It appears all is fair when it comes to exploring energy sources in the face of spiralling oil costs.

Amid the moral questions weighing on India during the Ukraine war, it’s a matter of curiosity that Dalveer Bhandari, the Indian judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague, co-signed the order of 13 judges asking Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine. Taking the international legal position into account, what Mr Bhandari did was right, and commendable too. There are two distinct opinions on the Ukraine situation — the first being official India’s view that does not condemn Russia for waging war and the second and more popular one that is against war and so condemns the aggressor.

It is certain to be recorded in history that India did not condemn the Russian aggression, which is what the White House may have tried to convey. But pragmatism dictates that all energy sources be explored when it comes to oil and India’s political stand on pricing of oil at the pump has ensured no increases yet despite oil touching $139 a barrel at the height of the panic over the war in Ukraine. That may change soon but the awkward moral questions posed by the war will remain.

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