India tried to defuse the situation around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and quietly helped in the grain deal between Moscow and Kyiv, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has said even as he vehemently rejected charges of New Delhi being a war profiteer over its procurement of discounted Russian oil.
The External Affairs Minister also described the cap on the price of Russian crude oil as a Western decision that was taken without any consultations with India, asserting that New Delhi would never automatically sign into what others had cooked up.
In an interview to ‘Die Press’ newspaper of Austria, Mr. Jaishankar while replying to a question on the Ukraine conflict, indicated India’s readiness to contribute towards defusing the situation.
Mr. Jaishankar was asked whether he saw a role for India as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine.
The External Affairs Minister paid a four-day visit to Austria that ended on Tuesday.
There were serious global concerns over the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in August after it came under fire, with both Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the attacks. Later, a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency travelled to the site.
The grain deal was sealed in July following months of negotiations to primarily facilitate the export of around millions of tonnes of wheat, maize and other grains from Ukraine. The deal was considered crucial for addressing food shortages in many countries.
India no war profiteer
Asked whether the main role of mediator had already been occupied by Turkey, Mr. Jaishankar said, “No. But it’s not a question of who gets the credit as mediator and makes the headlines for it.” To another question on India’s energy imports from Russia at discount prices and whether India was benefitting from not joining the Western sanctions, Mr. Jaishankar strongly rejected such a view.
“I vehemently reject— politically and also mathematically— that India is a war profiteer. Oil prices have doubled as a result of the Ukraine war,” he said in the interview that appeared on Monday.
Mr. Jaishankar said the oil market was also driven up by sanctions against Iran or what was happening in Venezuela.
“In such a situation, it makes diplomatic and economic sense to look around the market for the best deal. Would Europe pay more if it didn’t have to?,” he asked.
“Europe imported about $120 billion worth of energy from Russia after the war broke out. That’s six times as much as we bought,” he said.
When the interviewer pointed out that Europe had reduced its Russian energy imports, while India had increased its procurement, Mr. Jaishankar strongly shot back.
“Why is that? When Europe reduces its imports from Russia, it has to go to other oil markets. And those markets have been our main sources. If you take away my food, what am I going to do? Starve,” he asked.
On the price cap of Russian oil, the External Affairs Minister said, “That was a Western decision without consultations with us. Every State has the right to make decisions. But we will never automatically sign what others have cooked up.” Last month, leading Western countries announced a cap on the price of Russian oil at $60 a barrel to prevent Russia from profiting from its war on Ukraine.
When asked about the relevance of the price cap for India, he said it would depend on what impact it had on the energy markets. “Nobody knows at the moment. Therefore, if prices continue to rise, the rest of the world will express what they think.” Mr. Jaishankar stated that it was difficult to say whether the Ukraine war was shaking up the international order.
“But there is a clear psychological effect in Europe, which is forced to deal with a conflict in close proximity after a long time. What’s more, Russia has always had a European-Asian duality,” he said.
“But this two-headed eagle always looked more towards Europe than Asia. Russians always saw themselves as Europeans. In the wake of the Ukraine war, that orientation could shift to Asia. This has geopolitical implications,” he added.
Asked why India did not support the resolution in which the UN member States condemned the invasion of Ukraine by a majority, Mr. Jaishankar said each State judges events according to its “location, interests and history”.
“There are also incidents in Asia, where countries in Europe or Latin America do not feel the need to take a position. What happened in Ukraine is closer to Europe,” he noted.
“Europe has a different history with Russia than India. We also have different interests in Ukraine than you do. Almost all States will say that they support the principles of the UN Charter. But look at the world of the last 75 years: Have all UN members really always followed the UN Charter and never sent troops to another country,” he asked.
Asked about China’s rise and whether its increasing power projection posed a major challenge to the Indo-Pacific, Mr. Jaishankar said no region would be stable if it was dominated by a single power.
“The more India grows, the greater our economic weight and political influence becomes, the better it is not only for us but also for the world. Not only the world order, but also Asia must become multipolar,” he said.
“No region will be stable if it is dominated by a single power. The essence of international relations is for States to get along and find a balance,” he added.
“There are also incidents in Asia, where countries in Europe or Latin America do not feel the need to take a position”S. JaishankarExternal Affairs Minister