Thursday, May 26, 2022

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NEW DELHI — India and Russia are “good friends and old partners,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday after meeting his counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, in New Delhi, amid growing US pressure as India attempts to walk a diplomatic tightrope on the invasion of Ukraine.

“I believe Indian foreign policy is characterized by independence and concentration on real, national legitimate interests,” Lavrov said in a news briefing. India has repeatedly abstained from United Nations resolutions introduced by Western countries over Russia’s actions. Russia stands ready to supply anything that India wants to buy, the minister told reporters.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Lavrov, a noteworthy gesture given that Modi has not received other foreign ministers who recently visited India, including those from China and Britain. Lavrov said he wanted to “personally” deliver a message from President Vladimir Putin.

Lavrov’s visit comes a day after Dalip Singh, the US deputy national security adviser for international economics, was in Delhi and issued a veiled warning of “consequences” for countries trying to “circumvent” sanctions against Moscow.

Blaming the United States for forcing others to follow their politics, Lavrov expressed confidence that no pressure would affect India-Russia ties.

India is considering a rupee-ruble trade payment mechanism, a Cold War-era arrangement that would let Indian and Russian businesses bypass the use of US dollars to avoid the risk of sanctions.

Lavrov welcomed India’s stand. Unlike the West, which has reduced all issues to the “crisis” in Ukraine, he said, India is dealing with the situation in its entirety.

“I have no doubt that they will be able to bypass the artificial impediments which illegal, unilateral sanctions by the West has created,” Lavrov said.

India’s decision to buy discounted oil offered by Russia has also angered the West. Bloomberg News reported that Russia is offering a discount of up to $35 a barrel on pre-war prices and wants India to buy 15 million barrels. India has defended its position citing the reliance of European countries on Russian oil.

“When the oil prices go up, I think it is natural for countries to go out into the market and look for what are the good deals for their people,” Jaishankar said Thursday in the presence of British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, another high- profile dignitary visiting Delhi this week.

The visits and war of words over India’s position signal increasing concerns about India’s refusal to side with the Western world on criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and snapping ties with the Kremlin. India is dependent on Russia for the majority of its weapons imports.

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