The United States,
in a sudden volte-face, has come out and said that India importing Russian oil is
“not a violation of sanctions.” The statement, by White House press secretary
Jen Psaki, indicates a shift in how the US was responding to India-Russia ties
amid the situation in Ukraine. The statement also follows a conversation between
US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Energy imports
are not banned and they don’t violate out sanctions. We certainly recognise
that every country is going to take a step in their interest. I will let prime
minister Modi and Indians speak on that,” adding that Russian oil constitutes
roughly 1-2% of India’s total imports and that India imports 10% of its oil
from the United States.  

Psaki further said
that during the meeting Joe Biden told Modi that it was not in India’s interest
to increase energy imports from Russia. She said that Biden had told Modi that
the US could help India diversify its energy imports.

The statement by
the White House press secretary comes at a time when India has imported 13
million barrels of Russian crude oil at a discount. Moscow has been offering
discounts on Russian oil since the US, UK and the European Union sanctioned
Russian entities over its war on Ukraine.

India’s decision
to buy oil from Russia
despite international sanctions attracted snide remarks
from the United States as well as the UK. Many in the US even called for
sanctions against India for buying Russian oil. The Biden administration,
however, has not been particularly harsh. Even earlier, Psaki had said that
energy payments are decided by countries and do not fall under the purview of

The Indian ruling
establishment has largely maintained a ‘neutral’ stand on the Russia-Ukraine
crisis. Russia is not only an oil importer for India but also its biggest
defence supplier. Moreover, Moscow is one of New Delhi’s oldest allies. While
India’s foreign policy gesturing has moved towards the US in international
politics, it has chosen to maintain friendly relations with Russia.

In South Asia,
three neighbours – India, China and Pakistan – whose relationships are fraught
with tensions have interestingly seen eye to eye on this one issue. None of the
governments have been willing to uncritically apply the US and European
standards on the Ukraine issue on their countries.