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UK woos India with new security partnership to push it away from Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
During his visit to India, Boris Johnson will hold out the prospect of closer military ties but has no plans to confront his counterpart over India’s silence about the war in Ukraine. (Photo By AFP)

The UK and India have agreed on a "new and expanded" defense and security partnership during British premier Boris Johnson’s visit to New Delhi amid efforts to keep India away from Russia.

Johnson, who is on his maiden visit to New Delhi, held talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Friday on ways to boost security ties between the two countries.

The visit comes as the British premier is facing heat from his own Conservative lawmakers and the embarrassing prospect of a probe into whether he lied to parliament over the "Partygate" scandal. 

Johnson’s first visit to New Delhi also comes amid simmering conflict in Ukraine, where India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen on Vladimir Putin’s side.

India also has a long history of cooperation with Moscow, which continues to be its biggest military supplier, and has refused to condemn Russia for its military operation in Ukraine.

On the other hand, it is also part of the Quad grouping with the United States, Japan, and Australia that is seen as a counterweight to China’s staggering rise.

"The threats of autocratic coercion have grown even further," Johnson said alongside his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. "And it's therefore vital that we deepen our cooperation including our shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free."

The new partnership was "a decades-long commitment", he further said, hailing the relationship between "one of the oldest democracies, and India, certainly the largest democracy".

Johnson is hoping that his security offers to India could cut and help cut the country’s military reliance on Russia and drive it away from the Kremlin.

"We have agreed on a new and expanded defense and security partnership, a decades-long commitment that will not only forge tighter bonds between us but support your goal of Make in India," Johnson said on Friday, referring to Modi's domestic manufacturing push.

"And it's therefore vital that we deepen our cooperation including our shared interest in keeping the Indo-Pacific open and free," he added.

He said negotiators from the two countries were expected to complete a free-trade deal by the end of this year.

"We're telling our negotiators to get it done by Diwali in October. This could double our trade and investments by the end of the decade," he said.

India has chosen to tread cautiously on the Ukraine crisis but still has managed to show tacit support for Russia, notwithstanding the US pressure.

The two countries have had a time-tested relationship, mainly hinging on defense cooperation.

India's decision to abstain from voting on a UN Security Council resolution to condemn Russia's military intervention in Ukraine was not been received well in the West.

While the British officials seek greater security cooperation with India, the country remains reliant on Russian military equipment, partly because it is cheaper, according to Mohan Guruswamy, a director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi.

"Russia's offer to India is always that 'Our cupboard is open', (but) Britain doesn’t offer India everything it wants and what it does make available is usually more expensive," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

India has also continued to buy Russian oil, reasoning that European countries were doing the same and in much greater quantities.

Nevertheless, Modi has said the Ukraine war has raised the need for India to increase its domestic production of defense equipment.

India faces a superior Chinese army at their disputed Himalayan border.

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