Russia's foreign minister lauded India for not judging in a "one-sided way" as he discussed Moscow's military involvement in Ukraine with his Indian counterpart on Friday, after Washington urged New Delhi to use its leverage with Russia to end the war.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said ties between the two countries have sustained them through difficult times in the past.
Jaishankar emphasized the importance of a cessation of violence but avoided condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
"Differences and disputes should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy and by respect for international law, the UN Charter, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states," he said.
Lavrov praised India for judging "the situation in its entirety, not just in a one-sided way." He expressed hope that mutual respect in search of a balance in ties will prevail in the future.
Asked if Indian Prime Minister Narendra could mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, he replied, “I haven't heard about such talk, frankly speaking.”
"Given India’s position of a just and rational approach toward international problems, it can support such a process. No one is against it, I think,” he told a group of Indian and Russian journalists.
The two sides were expected to discuss the uninterrupted supply of spare parts for Russian-made military equipment in India's arsenal, trade, and oil payments in rubles, as demanded by Moscow.
India was Moscow's ally during the Cold War but has since sought to maintain ties with both Russia and Western nations.
On Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the US expects India to use its relations with Russia to help end the war in Ukraine.
“Different countries are going to have their own relationship with the Russian Federation. It’s a fact of history, it’s a fact of geography. That is not something that we are seeking to change,“ Price told reporters in Washington.
He said the US is looking for its friends and allies to speak in unison and loudly against the "unjustified, unprovoked, premeditated Russian aggression.”
Experts say up to 60% of Indian defense equipment was acquired from Russia. New Delhi finds itself in a bind at a time when it is facing a two-year-old standoff with China along their disputed border, with tens of thousands of soldiers within shooting distance. Twenty Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers died in a clash in 2020.
In the early 1990s, about 70% of Indian army weapons, 80% of its air force systems and 85% of its navy platforms were of Soviet origin. India is now reducing its dependency on Russian arms and diversifying its defense procurement, buying more from the United States, Israel, France and Italy.
But Indian energy dependency on Russia remains a factor in relations.
Last month, state-run Indian Oil Corp. bought 3 million barrels of crude from Russia to secure its needs, resisting Western pressure to avoid such purchases.
Jaishankar, who met British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday, defended India’s decision and decried "what looks almost like a campaign on this issue.”
He said March figures show that Europe bought 15% more oil and gas from Russia than it did in February.
"We get the bulk of our supply from the Middle East. In the past, India bought less than 1% from Russia. When the oil prices go up it is natural for countries to go out to the market and look up for good deals that are good for people,” he said at a meeting of the India-UK Strategic Futures Forum.
"I am quite sure that if we wait for two-three months and look at who are the big buyers, I suspect the list will not be vastly different. I suspect we will not be in top 10 on that list.“
The United States, Britain and other Western countries are urging India to avoid buying Russian oil and gas. Indian media reports said Russia was offering a discount on oil purchases of 20% below global benchmark prices.