As the Russia-Ukraine war wages on — it’s been 258 days of deaths and destruction — External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has arrived in Moscow for a two-day visit during which he will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who also is the trade minister.
This is Jaishankar’s first visit to the Vladimir Putin-led country after the Russian leader led his country into war with Ukraine. Jaishankar last visited Russia in July 2021 followed by the visit of the Russian foreign minister to New Delhi in April this year.
Jaishankar’s visit assumes significance as it comes days before the G-20 summit in Bali, scheduled for 15-16 November. This will be the first time that Putin and the western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, will be in the same room.
Moreover, the external affairs minister’s visit comes after Vladimir Putin praised India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice in the past few weeks — for India’s “talented” population, and the “independent foreign policy” it has chosen. There are speculations that Jaishankar’s visit is an attempt to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.
What’s on Jaishankar’s table as he meets with the Russian leaders? What is the purpose of this visit?
Oil, oil, oil
Ahead of Jaishankar’s arrival in Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry said that the visit will focus on trade and investment, use of national currencies for trade, energy projects and the formation of a security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.
It is expected that Jaishankar and Lavrov will discuss bilateral ties between the two countries with a special focus on oil imports.
Also read: How Russia earned $98 billion from fuel exports in first 100 days of Ukraine war
Since the war began, Western countries have sanctioned Russian oil — a move that India has not followed or adhered to.
In fact, according to the latest figures for October, Russia is now India’s largest supplier of oil, surpassing Saudi Arabia and Iraq, leaping from 43,400 barrels per day (bpd), which made up just 0.2 per cent of total exports last year, to 9,35,556 bpd which is about 22 per cent of the total intake this year.
The Indian government has been vehemently defending its trade with Russia, saying it has to source oil from where it is cheapest. In August, S Jaishankar had defended India’s crude oil imports from Russia by terming it the “best deal” for the country.
Speaking to the Indian community in Bangkok, Thailand, he had said, “At this time, oil and gas prices are unreasonably high. A lot of traditional suppliers to India are also diverting them to Europe because Europe is buying or can buy less oil and gas from Russia. So, Europe is also buying much more from the Middle East and from other sources that would have supplied to India.”
“So, it is a situation today where every country will try to ensure the best deal it gets to cushion high energy prices and India is doing exactly the same thing,” he had said.
Oil minister Hardeep Singh Puri last week also defended India’s decision to buy oil from Russia, telling CNN in Abu Dhabi, “There is no moral conflict. We don’t buy from X or Y. We buy whatever is available. The government does not buy, it’s the oil companies which do the buying.”
Currency use in trade
Besides oil supplies, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will also speak to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and Trade Minister Manturov about a mechanism for use of national currencies in settlements and trade.
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union had prohibited global transactions with Russian entities using euro-denominated banknotes, while the US cut off Russia’s access to the US dollar.
In such circumstances, India and Russia are looking at reviving the Rupee-Rouble payment mechanism to settle dues. The idea was first conceived in 1953 under the Indo-Soviet trade agreement.
This will enable India to continue its import-export relationship with Russia. According to the Department of Commerce, India has imports worth Rs 64,623 crore from Russia in 2021-22, which is 59.04 per cent growth from last year. Moreover, India’s exports to Russia is worth Rs 23,658 crore in 2021-22, which is a 20.4 per cent growth since last year.
If US-based media reports are to be believed, S Jaishankar’s visit to Russia is India’s attempt at playing mediator in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post have indicated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been in touch with both leaders, could help push Moscow and Kiev closer to dialogue.
Also read: When India played peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine
India has maintained a fine balance between the two countries, reiterating for both countries to come to the discussion table and solve the issue through dialogue. New Delhi has not publicly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has maintained that the crisis must be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.
On several UN forums, New Delhi has consistently called for a cessation of violence and advocated peace and diplomacy.
When the ministry of external affairs was asked if Jaishankar would indeed play mediator, spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “Our position on the conflict in Ukraine is pretty clear. We have always emphasised on the need for return to dialogue and diplomacy. I’m sure that External Affairs Minister would certainly be reiterating. But beyond that, I cannot say what they will discuss or what not.”
The G-20 summit and Modi-Putin meet
Ahead of Jaishankar’s arrival, the Russian foreign ministry had said that the leaders would exchange assessments on the current international issues with an emphasis on interaction within the United Nations, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Group of Twenty (G20) and RIC (Russia, India, China).
Vladimir Putin had last month said he would “think about” attending the G-20 summit in Indonesia’s Bali, but Russia would “definitely” be represented at a high level.
Earlier, Indonesia had rejected calls by Western countries and Ukraine to exclude Russia from the summit, pledging to maintain neutrality and emphasising the potential for cooperation on food and energy security.
Jaishankar will also discuss with Lavrov the expected annual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is due in December, although no date has been set yet.
Both the countries, according to News18, hold a summit meet annually to review their ties. It is the turn of Prime Minister Modi to travel to Russia for this year’s summit. However, there is no clarity yet on the summit this year.
Whether Russia-India ties deepen after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit only time will tell; until then we wait and watch.
With inputs from agencies
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