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New Delhi: Amidst India’s efforts to deflect criticism over buying oil from Russia by pointing fingers at Europe, European Union President Ursula Von der Leyen underlined the regional bloc’s increasing investment in renewable energy as a fallout of the Ukrainian war and asserted that cooperation in this field with the South Asian country would be “critical” to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.
On her two-day visit, the former German foreign minister, who was elected as EU president in 2019, highlighted Europe’s turn towards green energy as a strategic move in the backdrop of the conflict in the continent.
In line with the green theme, her only two side appointments in New Delhi were to visit the headquarters of the International Solar Alliance and the campus of the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a sustainable development think-tank.
On Monday, when she met with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, they agreed to establish a joint Trade and Technology Council, but her key talking point was connecting Europe’s energy security with Ukraine.
According to the official press note, Von der Leyen told Modi that Europe would “diversify away from fossil fuels and invest heavily in clean renewable energy”. For this, “cooperation with India not only on solar but also on green hydrogen is critical,” she stated as per the public remarks released by the EU.
During her meeting with the Indian PM, it is learnt that she explicitly framed Europe’s strategic decision to move towards renewable energy as a consequence of Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine. In essence, she argued that India should cooperate with Europe in green energy to reduce dependence on Russian crude.
After the Russian military rolled through Ukraine’s border on February 24, the United States banned imports of Russian oil. However, European countries, which import 27% of their oil demand from Russia, have yet to impose any such ban, as it would adversely impact their economies.
India purchasing highly-discounted Russian oil has led to critical statements from western capitals, especially Washington. A visiting senior US government official had even indicated Washington would be unhappy if New Delhi rapidly accelerated its purchase of Russian oil.
The response from the Indian establishment had been that purchasing crude does not violate any sanctions, and Europe continues to be the largest buyer of Russian oil. “If you are looking at energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe…probably we do buy some energy which is necessary for our energy security. But I suspect, looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon,” Indian external affairs minister Jaishankar said at a media briefing with his US counterpart, earlier this month.
In February, German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a radical new policy to reduce dependence on Russian energy supply. Two months later, Germany’s finance minister Christian Lindner said that it would take time to end reliance on Russian energy, which meets half of its demand.
The Wall Street Journal had reported that Russian oil exports to European ports have actually increased in April, compared to an earlier dip in March. While oil imports are still not sanctioned, European countries are avoiding the reputational risk of buying Russian oil by making tankers mark their destination as “unknown”, the Journal said.
Meanwhile, the European Union President also sought to impress her Indian audience that the war in Ukraine had important consequences for Asia and India. New Delhi has, so far, preferred to keep a neutral position by refraining from directly criticising Russia and has abstained on all resolutions on Ukraine in the United Nations.
Asserting that the war in Ukraine already has impacted Indo-Pacific, Von der Leyen pointed to the rising prices across the region. “Thus, the outcome of the war will not only determine the future of Europe but also deeply affect the Indo-Pacific region and the rest of the world,” she said in her speech at the inaugural session of the Raisina Dialogue.
The war’s outcome, Von der Leyen claimed, was crucial for maintaining a rules-based security architecture. “For the Indo-Pacific region, it is as important as for Europe that borders are respected and that spheres of influence are rejected”.
She also sought to refer to India’s concerns about China, by indicating Moscow’s actions had been in step with Beijing. “And if we consider what it means, for Europe and Asia, that Russia and China have forged a seemingly unrestrained pact. They have declared that the friendship between them has ‘no limits’; that there are ‘no forbidden areas of cooperation’; this was in February this year. And then, the invasion of Ukraine followed. What can we expect from the ‘new international relations’ that both have called for?”
Von der Leyen’s hyphenation of Russia and China was similar to the argument deployed by a visiting US official to persuade India to join the other Quad countries in voicing concern about Russian actions. “I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breached the Line of Actual Control, Russia would come running in India’s defence,” Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh said in March-end.
The EU president also justified the use of sanctions against Russia, describing them as part of a broader strategy that has diplomatic and security elements. “And this is why we have designed the sanctions in a way to sustain them over a longer period of time”.
Asserting that the sanctions does give “leverage” to reach a diplomatic solution for “lasting peace”, she implicitly called on all countries to respect the sanctions. “Because this gives us leverage to achieve a diplomatic solution that will bring lasting peace. And we urge all members of the international community to support our efforts for lasting peace”.