US does not want 'rapid acceleration' in India energy imports from Russia

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A man holds the flags of India and the U.S. while people take part in the 35th India Day Parade in New York August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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NEW DELHI, March 31 (Reuters) - The United States will not set any "red line" for India on its energy imports from Russia but does not want to see a "rapid acceleration" in purchases, a top U.S. official said on Thursday during a visit to New Delhi.

Lured by steep discounts following Western sanctions on Russian entities, India has bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian crude oil since the country invaded Ukraine in late February. That compared with some 16 million barrels for the whole of last year, data compiled by Reuters shows.

"Friends don't set red lines," Daleep Singh, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics, told reporters, adding however that its partners in Europe and Asia had been urged to cut their reliance on "an unreliable energy supplier".

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Singh spoke ahead of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's arrival in the Indian capital for a two-day trip. Lavrov, who flew from meetings in China, will see Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Friday, the Russian foreign ministry said on Twitter.

Russia has long been India's biggest supplier of defence equipment, despite growing purchases from the United States in the past decade. Defence analysts say Russian supplies are more cost-competitive and vital for India as it faces a superior Chinese military.

Singh said the United States was ready to help India diversify its energy and defence supplies. India is the world's third biggest oil importer and consumer.

"We stand ready to help India diversify its energy resources, much like is the case for defence resources over a period of time. But there is no prohibition at present on energy imports from Russia," he said.

"What we would not like to see is a rapid acceleration of India's imports from Russia as it relates to energy or any other exports that are currently being prohibited by us or by other aspects of the international sanctions regime."

A U.S. government official earlier told Reuters that Washington had no objection to India buying Russian oil, provided purchases were made at cheaper-than-market rates. read more

Russia is offering a discount of $35 a barrel to price levels prior to the start of the Ukraine war, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Indian Oil Corp (IOC.NS), the country's biggest crude refiner, has an option to buy up to 2 million tonnes, or about 15 million barrels, of Urals-grade crude oil from Russia's Rosneft (ROSN.MM) this year. read more

RUPEE-ROUBLE PAYMENTS

Singh also said the United States does not want its allies helping resurrect the rouble , which nosedived immediately after the war began but has recovered in recent days.

"We would not like to see mechanisms that are designed to prop up the rouble or to undermine the dollar-based financial system, or to circumvent our financial sanctions," he said.

Reuters has reported that India and Russia are trying to work out a rupee-rouble payments mechanism to maintain trade between them. read more

India and China count Russia as a friendly nation and neither has condemned Russia's attack on Ukraine. While India has abstained from voting on U.N. resolutions on the war, China has in some cases sided with Moscow.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said after a meeting with Lavrov on Wednesday that Moscow and Beijing were "more determined" to develop bilateral ties and boost cooperation. read more

Singh said the growing Beijing-Moscow bonhomie meant that Russia could not be expected to come to India's rescue in case of any future border escalations between India and China.

"Russia is going to be the junior partner in this relationship with China," he said. "And the more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India."

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Additional Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, William Maclean and Jane Merriman

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