India once again broke its previous Russian oil import records in May, Reuters reported on Wednesday, buying 1.95 million barrels per day (bpd) that month. About 40 percent of the oil India imported in May came from Russia.
Reuters cited “tanker data from trade and industry sources” for its statistics. The industry website OilPrice.com, citing similar statistics from the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI), reported that the Russian imports totaled more “than the 1.74 million bpd in India’s combined imports from the next four largest suppliers – Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the U.S.”
OilPrice.com noted that India’s oil purchases fell slightly in April, a “lackluster” month for the business, but hit “new record highs” in May.
“Indian demand is equally robust with the latest readings for May showing both gasoline and diesel breaking records,” the website quoted the International Energy Agency (IEA) as explaining last week.
India relies heavily on foreign sources for both its crude oil and refined products such as gasoline and diesel, despite its significant refining capacity. While traditionally maintaining strong import relationships with Middle Eastern oil giants such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), New Delhi dramatically reconfigured its oil economy in light of the Russian “special operation” to oust Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that began in February 2022. The invasion resulted in the imposition of sanctions on Russia’s oil industry on the part of the West and nations allied with Ukraine, sinking Russian oil prices. The drop in price and limited list of potential buyers has made the Russian oil market attractive to the Indian government, which is reportedly profiting significantly from buying cheap Russian crude, refining it at home, and selling it at a markup.
India increased its Russian oil imports tenfold in 2022, the BBC reported in May, resulting in a discount of about $5 billion compared to what it would have spent on oil if it did not buy from Russia. The 40 percent share of Indian oil imports represented by Russia in May 2023 is about 20 times more than the two percent share Russia represented in 2021. Russia became India’s top oil supplier in November, surpassing Saudi Arabia.
India stands alongside China, the world’s largest oil importer, as the main new buyer of cheap Russian oil. As of May, China and India represented 80 percent of Russia’s crude oil sales. China — one of Russia’s closest geopolitical allies, but a partner to Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) member Ukraine, as well — also hit record-high oil imports from Russia in May. According to the Chinese General Administration of Customs, China imported 2.29 million bpd in May, a 15.3-percent increase year-on-year.
While beneficial to the Indian economy, New Delhi’s growing reliance on Russian oil has presented a geopolitical problem for India, as its faces pressure from Europe and the United States to distance itself from Moscow and support the Ukrainian cause. India has traditionally maintained strong ties to the Soviet Union and its successor state, especially regarding military weapons purchases, and has rejected calls to sever its ties to Moscow. Its ties to Ukraine have been, at best, frayed, as Kyiv demands financial support. The Ukrainian government did itself few favors in May when its Defense Ministry published an illustration of an explosion in Sevastopol, occupied Crimea, stylized to appear as the Hindu goddess Kali dressed as Marilyn Monroe. The intent of the publication was not clear, but Ukrainian officials apologized after New Delhi accused the government of “Hinduphobia.”
The official handle of the Ministry of Defence, Ukraine @DefenceU 🇺 posted a highly insulting and hateful content today on Twitter portraying Hindu Godess Kali.
— Indian Aerospace Defence News – IADN (@NewsIADN) April 30, 2023
Indian officials have bluntly condemned Western nations for not being as forthcoming with defense sales as Russia has in the past, indicating that the friendly ties preceding the Ukrainian war are informing India’s decision-making.
“We have, as you know, a substantial inventory of Soviet and Russian-origin weapons, and that inventory actually grew for a variety of reasons – you know, the merits of the weapon systems themselves,” Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said during a press briefing in October, “but also because for multiple decades, Western countries did not supply weapons to India, and in fact saw a military dictatorship next to us [Pakistan] as the preferred partner.”
Jaishankar condemned the West in January for criticizing India’s attempts to secure the most economically viable deals on fuel for its citizens.
“If 60,000 euros or whatever your per capita income is, if you are so caring about your population, I have a population at $2,000 which also needs energy,” the foreign minister said at the time. “The price of oil has doubled and Europe also moving into the Middle East and diverting their production into Europe and raising prices … putting pressure on global oil markets and on my imports as well.”
“I can give you many instances of countries violating the sovereignty of another country,” Jaishankar added, “If I were to ask where Europe stood on a lot of those, I am afraid, I’ll get a long silence.”
Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Singh Puri stated in November that, for his country, “there is no moral conflict in buying Russian oil.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is currently in Washington for a state visit and is, at press time, engaging in an extensive meeting with American President Joe Biden at the White House, where the two are expected to discuss, among other topics, Russia and Ukraine.
The White House / YouTube
Washington, D.C. | Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden hold bilateral talks in the Oval Office of the White House. pic.twitter.com/Ww50IdeDbJ
— ANI (@ANI) June 22, 2023
Prior to his meeting with Biden on Thursday, Modi secured a deal for an Indian state company to jointly develop fighter jet engines with General Electric, satisfying some of the Indian military’s demand for defense supplies that Jaishankar had complained the West was hesitant to fulfill.
India, the current president of the G20 group of nations, is facing pressure from Western countries to use the upcoming group summit to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Jaishankar, the foreign minister, said in early June that such an invite was unlikely.
“In our view, G20 participation is for members of G20, and for the countries and organizations who we have invited to the G20, and that list we had declared as soon as we assumed the presidency of the G20,” Jaishankar said. Russia is a G20 member; Ukraine is not.
Amitabh Kant, India’s negotiator at a G20 event in March, urged the world to simply “move on” from Ukraine.
“Nutrition has been impacted, health outcomes have been impacted, learning outcomes have been impacted, people have become stunted and wasted and we are just concerned with one Russia and Ukraine war. The world needs to move on and Europe needs to find a solution to its challenges,” he asserted.
Prior to meeting with Biden this week, Modi met with both him and Zelensky at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, in May. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio invited Zelensky despite his country not being a member of the G7. At the summit, Modi insisted that India stood on the side of “peace,” but refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or explicitly side with either country.
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