During his two visit to India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to offer New Delhi help to cut its reliance on Russian oil and defence equipment in a visit that will test his diplomatic skills and provide some brief respite from a raging issues back at home.
In this first trip to India, Johnson aims to discuss strengthening of security cooperation with New Delhi, said his spokesperson.
Western countries, which continue to import oil and gas from Russia have urged India to cut oil imports from Russia. With India facing a belligerent Chinese military on its borders, New Delhi depends on Russia for weapons and has abstained in the United Nations vote and has not imposed sanctions on Russia. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has however expressed serious concern over the killing of civilians.
In a development that marks yet another gaff from U.S. President Joe Biden, he reportedly told Modi that buying more Russian oil was not in India’s interest, in contrast to Europe continuing to buy billions of dollars in Russian LNG. The White House was quick to move on from this topic.
Johnson will not lecture Modi on the matter, said his spokesperson.
According to Uday Bhaskar, director at the Society For Policy Studies in New Delhi, there was little Britain could do in practice to replace Russia as a strategic ally.
“(Britain) doesn’t have enough oil or the right type of military equipment to sell,” said Bhaskar.
While India has increased weapon purchases from the West in recent years, Russia continues to be a reliable weapons supplier especially in the wake of a standoff with the PLA in the Himalayan region which saw the death of soldiers from both countries.
At that time, Western countries were quick to gloss over the stand off. Even during perennial terrorist attacks from Pakistan actors close to the Pakistan military, the United States continues to sell sophisticated weapons to Pakistan which are regularly found in the hands of Pakistani terrorists.
Johnson’s arrival in India comes at a time when back at England, there is a vote on whether he should be referred to a parliamentary investigation over claims he misled lawmakers about parties in Downing Street that broke his own coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Johnson’s trip to India begins in the state of Gujarat, the hometown of the Indian Prime Minister. He is scheduled to visit a new factory being opened by a British firm and announce investment and collaboration in science, health and technology.
The visit marks the first time a British prime minister has visited the sprawling coastal state famed for its entrepreneurial spirit; Gujarat is also the ancestral home of nearly half the British-Indian population.
Johnson is scheduled to visit New Delhi for talks with Modi, which will include new defence partnerships and a free trade agreement between the two countries, discussions of which have been ongoing since January.
At the beginning of this century, Britain was India’s third-largest trading partner, it has now slipped to 17th in 2021, as per official Indian government figures. India’s biggest trading partners are the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates.
Johnson is set to announce new investment and export agreements by British and Indian businesses, in fields ranging from software engineering to pharmaceuticals, which his office said would total more than 1 billion pounds.
India’s longstanding demand for easier access to British visas for students and skilled workers during any trade talks will also prove politically difficult for the British government.
($1 = 0.7689 pounds)