As Russia Looks to Bypass Sanctions, India Tells Lavrov to 'Respect Territorial Integrity'

The Russian foreign minister said Moscow was ready to facilitate any purchases by the Indian side using alternate financial transactions, to bypass sanctions imposed by the West.

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New Delhi: A day after the US warned that there could be consequences to circumventing sanctions, India told Russia that the territorial integrity of states should be respected, even as the visiting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov batted for alternate payment through national currencies as the way to “bypass” international restrictions.

Lavrov had arrived in New Delhi on Thursday night for a short visit, just as the Indian capital was also hosting senior officials from the United States and the United Kingdom.

On Thursday, US  Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics, Dalip Singh, had conveyed to an Indian audience in New Delhi that there could be “consequences” to efforts to bypass the maze of economic sanctions imposed on Russia to cut it off from the global financial system. At the same time, he also noted that the US would not want “rapid acceleration” in India’s oil imports from Russia.

Earlier, US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo had said that it would be “deeply disappointing” if India joined Russia’s central messaging system SPFS to buy Russian crude and weapons.

Also read: ‘Deeply Disappointing’ if India Joins Russia’s Financial Transfer System, Says US Commerce Secy

The UK foreign secretary Liz Truss had a more diplomatic message that while the West would like India to support the sanctions, it won’t pressure sovereign nations to change their decisions.

On their part, the Russians had been playing up that China and India and other countries have not fallen in line with the West in sanctioning Moscow. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that the Ukraine crisis had strengthened the “Russia-China-India bloc”.

So, when Lavrov was in Delhi, he was quick to praise India. “…our Western colleagues would like to reduce any meaningful international issue to the crisis in Ukraine. You know our position. We do not hide anything. We appreciate that India is taking the situation in the entirety, not just in a one-sided way,” he said in his opening remarks at the start of talks with external affairs minister Jaishankar.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar interacts with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting, in New Delhi. Photo: PTI.

The Indian foreign minister referred to the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis in his remarks, but only indirectly. “Our meeting today takes place in a difficult international environment quite apart from the pandemic”.

The MEA’s readout of the talks also noted that Jaishankar reiterated India’s position about the relevance of UN charter principles and respect for territorial integrity. “EAM emphasised the importance of cessation of violence and ending hostilities. Differences and disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy and by respect for international law, UN Charter, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.”

Later, the press release of Lavrov’s call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also made a similar point. “Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of violence, and conveyed India’s readiness to contribute in any way to the peace efforts.”

India has, so far, purposefully refrained from explicitly the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine but has tried to signal its discomfort by referring to the importance of the territorial integrity of countries in multiple statements at the United Nations.

The two ministers had no joint media appearance, but Lavrov held a separate briefing for reporters.

During his briefing, he also ‘corrected’ a reporter’s questions to assert the Ukraine crisis was not a “war” but a “special military operation”.

Traditionally, economic relations had always been perceived as the weakest link in Indo-Russian strategic ties. However, it is the economic relationship that is now under the spotlight in the aftermath of the punitive steps taken by the West against Russia.

The Russian foreign minister told reporters that Moscow was ready to facilitate any purchases by the Indian side using alternate financial transactions. “As for the use of Rubles and Rupees in trade finance transactions, I would like to remind you that many years ago, we began to move away from using Dollars and Euros in our relations with India, China and many other countries to make greater use of the national currency,” he said.

Noting that Russia was “ready to provide India with any goods that it wants to purchase”, Lavrov said, “This is a way to bypass the artificial impediment created by the illegal unilateral sanctions of the West.”

“We don’t want to rely on a system that can be shut down at any moment and whose owners can steal money from us,” Lavrov observed.

He also noted that relevant ministries were working on a solution to continue bilateral military cooperation.

“I believe that Indian foreign policy is characterised by independence and concentration on real national legitimate interest. The same policy basis exists in Russian Federation.”

India has bought millions of barrels of crude oil from Russia at a discount since the war began. The Indian foreign minister made a robust defence of the additional purchases at an event with the UK foreign secretary Liz Truss, pointing out that European countries were also still buying fuel from Russia. Truss responded that European nations, like Germany, had already broadcast their intention to drastically reduce their dependence on Russian gas in the long term.

Singh had, in blunt words, conveyed Washington’s unease about Russia’s bid to circumvent financial sanctions that could pressurise Moscow to end the war in Ukraine. “We would not like to see mechanisms that are designed to prop up the rouble or to undermine the dollar-based financial system or to circumvent our financial sanctions,” he said.

According to the official readout, Jaishankar told Lavrov that global volatility in “different domains is of particular concern to India”. “It is important for both countries that their economic, technological and people-to-people contacts remain stable and predictable,” said the press note.

The Russian minister, who flew to India from Beijing, also said that there were discussions on strengthening the RIC format.

“Today, Mr. Jaishankar and I discussed how to develop and use this troika more actively in the interests of stabilising international relations and ensuring equality in international affairs. This is especially true given that all three countries – Russia, India and China – are now members of the UN Security Council. So we have a lot of plans.”

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited New Delhi last week, after a gap of two years.