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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has indicated that India was open to consider playing the role of a mediator to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict if approached, but noted that New Delhi does not believe it should initiate anything on its own. In an interview to German economic daily Handelsblatt, he also said that following the Ukraine conflict, India’s energy suppliers in the Middle-East gave priority to supply petroleum products to Europe that paid higher prices and New Delhi did not have any option but to procure Russian crude oil.

Jaishankar asserted that just as India does not expect Europe to have a view of China that is identical to New Delhi’s, Europe should understand that India cannot have a view of Russia that is identical to the European one. He said India has had a “stable” and “very friendly” relationship with Russia, and that Moscow never hurt New Delhi’s interests. “We, on the other hand, had a politically and militarily much more difficult relationship with China, for example,” he said.

On India’s continuing military cooperation with Russia notwithstanding the Ukraine conflict, Jaishankar said it is going on “because many Western countries have long preferred to supply Pakistan and not India.” Jaishankar said India is “deeply convinced, and are publicly committed to bringing the conflict to an end”. “Everyone is suffering from this conflict. I don’t know exactly how it will end, we’re not deep enough into the process to know,” he said. Asked if that isn’t a reason why India could be a mediator, Jaishankar said: “Theoretically, yes.

We have already helped with very specific issues.” “When Turkey negotiated the corridor through the Black Sea, for example. And we were very supportive of the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant,” he said. “Wherever we can help, we are happy to do so. We are open when we are approached. However, we do not believe that we should initiate anything in this direction on our own,” he added. Turkey played a key role in activating the corridor to transport grain from Ukraine to various world markets as Russia had blocked it following escalation of its conflict with Ukraine. Jaishankar also strongly justified India’s procurement of Russian crude oil.

“When the fighting started in Ukraine, Europe shifted a large part of its energy procurement to the Middle East — until then the main supplier for India and other countries,” Jaishankar said. “What should we have done? In many cases, our Middle-East suppliers gave priority to Europe because Europe paid higher prices. Either we would have had no energy because everything would have gone to them. Or we would have ended up paying a lot more because you were paying more,” he said. In a certain way, we stabilised the energy market that way, he added.

His response came when asked about criticism in Europe against India that its procurement of Russian crude oil is detrimental to the effectiveness of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The external affairs minister argued that if no one had bought the crude oil from Russia and everyone had procured it from the other countries, prices on the energy market would have shot up even further. “Global inflation would have been much higher — and that would have been a huge political issue in lower-income countries,” he said. “If Europe had wanted to maximize the damage at the time, it would have had to stop all economic relations with Russia completely.

But it didn’t,” he said. Jaishankar said if Europe was so convinced and the principles were so important, why did it allow relations to end “gently”? “Why were there exceptions for pipeline gas, for individual countries and so on? That’s what governments do, they manage politics with an eye on the consequences for their people,” he said. Asked if India would you have liked support from Europe in the border conflict with China in 2020, Jaishankar said “My point is: just as I do not expect Europe to have a view of China that is identical to mine, Europe should understand that I cannot have a view of Russia that is identical to the European one.” “Let us accept that there are natural differences in relationships,” he said.

To a question on whether the Indo-Russian engagement is a burden on the India-Europe ties, Jaishankar said everyone conducts a relationship based on their past experiences. “If I look at the history of India post-independence, Russia has never hurt our interests. The relations of powers like Europe, the US, China or Japan with Russia, they have all seen ups and downs,” he said. “We have had a stable and always very friendly relationship with Russia.

And our relationship with Russia today is based on this experience. For others, things were different, and conflicts may have shaped the relationship,” he said. Asked about India recently agreeing on more arms cooperation with Russia and whether the country is still the most important arms supplier for New Delhi, Jaishankar said: “In terms of inventory, yes, because many Western countries have long preferred to supply Pakistan and not India.” “But that has changed in the past 10 or 15 years with the US, for example, and our new purchases have diversified with the US, Russia, France and Israel as the main suppliers,” he said.