Business News/ Politics / India defends oil exports post EU’s Russian fuel call

New Delhi: India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar hit back on the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s call for action on imports of Indian-refined oil with Russian origins.

Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Europe has attempted to move away from its previous dependence on Russian energy supplies. The European Union banned the seaborne import of Russian oil starting December 5 last year. It applied similar measures to petroleum products in February 2023. The EU has also worked with partners like the United States to institute a price cap scheme to force Russia to sell its oil at discounted rates, thereby eating into Russian oil revenues.

In the 15 months since the outbreak of the war, India has emerged as a key importer of Russian crude oil. In February, India imported a record 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, which made Russia the country’s top supplier of oil.

Government figures also indicate that India’s exports of refined products to Europe, which may have been produced from Russian crude, have increased sharply. According to some estimates, India’s petroleum product exports to the European Union rose to 11.6 million tonnes in the period between April 2022 to January 2023. This represented a 20.4 per cent jump year-on-year.

Critics have characterised these sales as a circumvention of the EU’s sanctions on Russia, given the use of Russian crude in making these refined products.

It was in this context that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s comments must be considered.

“If diesel or gasoline is entering Europe . . . coming from India and being produced with Russian oil, that is certainly a circumvention of sanctions and member states have to take measures," Borrell was quoted as saying to the Financial Times.

“That India buys Russian oil, it’s normal. And if, thanks to our limitations on the price of oil, India can buy this oil much cheaper, well the less money Russia gets, the better," argued the EU’s top foreign policy official.

“But if they use that in order to be a centre where Russian oil is being refined and by-products are being sold to us . . . we have to act," he concluded.

This prompted a pushback from India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who was in Brussels for the first ministerial meeting of the India-EU Trade and Technology Council.

“My understanding of the (EU) Council regulations is that Russian crude is substantially transformed in a third country then it is not treated as Russian anymore. I would urge you to look at Council’s Regulation 833/2014," said Jaishankar at a press briefing with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and top EU official Margarethe Vestager in attendance.

Vestager chose not to add to Jaishankar’s comments.

“There is, I think, no doubt about the legal basis of the sanctions. Of course, it is a discussion that we will have with friends but it will be a discussion we will have with friends but it will be with an extended hand and of course not with a pointed finger," said Vestager.

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Updated: 18 May 2023, 12:51 AM IST
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