India’s Oil Minister: No ‘Moral Conflict’ over Buying Russian Oil

Hardeep Singh Puri during the press conference to launch PM SVANidhi Mahotsav portal at Co
Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Indian Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Monday that India feels no “moral conflict” over buying oil from Russia, although he also took pains to minimize the impact of India’s discounted Russian energy purposes.

Puri was asked by reporters if his government felt any “qualms” about buying from Russia, while many other nations are laying heavy sanctions on Moscow for its brutal invasion of Ukraine.

“Absolutely none,” he replied. “There is no moral conflict.”

“We don’t buy from X or Y. We buy whatever is available. I don’t do the buying. It’s the oil companies who do the buying,” he said, dismissing questions of moral conflict as “ideological.”

Puri then betrayed his confident position by hastening to “correct” ostensible misconceptions about how much oil India is buying from Russia.

“Let me first try and correct your perspective. We ended the financial year 2022, the purchases of Russian oil were not two percent, it was 0.2 percent. Moreover, we still buy a quarter of what Europe buys in one afternoon. So let’s be very clear about what the perspective is,” he argued.

Puri later emphasized that Russia is not one of India’s top oil suppliers. “In fact, the largest supplier last month was Iraq,” he noted.

Puri said India is not concerned about running afoul of American or European sanctions on Russia. He suggested some of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confidence flows from the size and geopolitical importance of its economy.

Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, right, and Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, pose for photographs as Putin arrives at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Putin visits New Delhi as billions of dollars of Russian weaponry flow into India that would normally attract U.S. sanctions. Eager to draw India into its efforts to contain China, the U.S. may look away this time. Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, right, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, pose for photographs as Putin arrives at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (T. Narayan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“We have healthy discussions going on with the U.S. and Europe,” he said. “We don’t feel any pressure. Modi’s government doesn’t feel the pressure. We are the fifth largest economy in the world.”

“We owe our moral duty to consumers. We have a 1.3 billion population, and we have to ensure that they are supplied with energy, whether petrol or diesel,” he contended, repeating an argument he made when meeting with U.S. officials in Washington last month.

“India will buy oil from wherever it has to, for the simple reason that this kind of discussion cannot be taken to the consuming population of India,” he concluded.

Puri said India is prepared to entertain offers of oil from European suppliers, but he was skeptical about EU proposals to put price caps on Russian oil.

“I do not answer hypothetical questions,” he snapped when asked what India would do if the United States or European Union demanded it stop buying from Russia.

Puri also argued that India should be thanked for keeping global fuel prices down by keeping Russia’s oil on the market and demanded some appreciation for India’s green energy contributions, essentially claiming India is doing a better job of transitioning away from fossil fuels than many of the countries that want to shame it out of buying Russian crude.

Bloomberg News reported on Monday that Russia has “mostly failed to line up fresh markets for its crude” in the face of EU sanctions on Russian products shipped by sea. Russia stands to lose about 740,000 barrels a day of exports to Europe when the sanctions take effect on December 5, and a 650,000 barrel-per-day pipeline to Poland and Germany is due to shut down a month later.

So far only India, China, and Turkey have stepped in to pick up the slack. As Puri noted, India is showing some caution in how much Russian oil it will commit to purchasing, and India is a much less convenient destination for Russian tankers than Turkey or China. 

Indian oil demand is down overall due to a slowing economy, although Puri was somewhat disingenuous to wave aside its Russian oil purchases as trivial. Iraq was indeed India’s top supplier last month, but Russia overtook Saudi Arabia to become Number Two. India’s imports from Russian oil fields surged to their highest level ever, as Indian buyers were attracted by steep discounts. 


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