United States President Joe Biden’s campaign to unite the globe against the Russian invasion of Ukraine is being challenged by the world’s most populous democracy, India.
Local media indicate that the country will increase its imports of Russian oil, allowing it to boost energy supplies at a discount as its economy struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
Although India is not alone in buying Russian energy the decision conflicts with Biden’s efforts to isolate Russia’s economy with sanctions.
The increased flow of oil could further strain the relationship between Washington and New Delhi, which has already been tested by India’s recent procurement of advanced Russian air defence systems.
The White House is still considering whether to enact sanctions on India for that purchase.
The oil deal is a reminder of how the war in Ukraine has created a complicated geopolitical balancing act for Biden. Even as he tries to rally countries to oppose Russia’s invasion, he also sees India as a critical partner for countering China’s rising influence in Asia.
Russia has long been a point of friction in US-India relations, but the White House believes the two democracies have more that’s in common than that divides them.
India is a member of the Quad, an international partnership that also includes the US, Australia and Japan, and the leaders of all four nations are slated to meet this year in Tokyo.
The White House has publicly warned China against siding with Russia during the war in Ukraine, but it has been more circumspect when addressing India’s role.
Imports make up 85 percent of India’s oil needs, and its overall demand is projected to jump 8.2 percent to 5.15 million barrels per day this year.
Indian media reports said that Russia was offering a 20 percent discount on oil purchases below global benchmark prices.
“We are exploring all possibilities in the global energy market,” India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Thursday. “I don’t think Russia has been a major oil supplier to India.”
India’s relationship with Russia revolves more around defence than energy. Russia provides only a small fraction of India’s oil but the majority of its military hardware.
India abstained from a United Nations Security Council vote condemning the invasion of Ukraine, and the Russian embassy in New Dehli responded by saying it “highly appreciate(s) India’s independent and balanced position”.
Shortly after Russia’s invasion began, Biden was asked if India is “fully in sync” with the US on Russia.
He responded that “we’re in consultation” with India, adding that “we haven’t resolved that completely.”