Boris Johnson: India-Russia ties are historic, they are not going to change it

On the final day of his two-day visit to India, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson Friday touched upon the unfolding crisis in Ukraine and stated that everyone respects New Delhi’s decades-old historic relationship with Moscow.

His statement came amid growing disquiet in Western nations over India’s refusal to directly condemn the Russian aggression in Ukraine and its decision to procure discounted Russian oil.

“The situation around the world is obliging the UK and India to do more together… The Russia-India ties are historically well-known and they are not going to change that,” Johnson said.

Responding to a question on whether he asked Modi to use his influence over Moscow to put pressure on Russia, Johnson said, “I think you have to recognise that Indians and Narendra Modi, in particular, came out with very strong language on what’s happened in Bucha. ..Talking to PM Modi, it is clear he has already intervened several times with Vladimir Putin.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a news conference in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2022. (REUTERS Photo)

Johnson also addressed India’s concerns over Khalistani elements in his country, and said that the UK does not tolerate extremist groups operating from there. “We don’t tolerate extremist groups operating in UK and targeting other countries,” he said.

When questioned about fugitive offenders Nirav Modi and Vijay MallyaJohnson said the legal technicalities have made their extradition difficult, however, insisting that the UK government does not welcome people who want to use their legal system to evade law in India.

“We’ve set up an anti-extremist task force to help India…the UK govt ordered extradition…We don’t welcome people who want to use our legal system to evade the law in India…,” he said.

When asked about reports of rights violations in India, the UK PM responded: “India is a great democracy and has constitutional protection.”

Boris Johnson calls PM Modi ‘khas dost’, says India-UK free trade pact by Diwali

Calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi his “khas dost” (dear friend), Johnson said that India and the United Kingdom are on path to sign a free-trade agreement by Diwali this year.

“As the next round of talks begins here next week, we’re telling our negotiators to get it done by Diwali…. this could double our trade and investment by the end of the decade,” the British PM said after his meeting with PM Modi in New Delhi.

Reiterating the commitment, PM Modi said that he hoped to sign the patch by the end of the year as both the sides were working closely and making “good progress”. Citing the FTAs ​​with UAE and Australia, he said that the negotiations for the one with the UK are being done at the “same speed” and with the “same commitment”.

Johnson, Modi agree to deepen defense cooperation

In a bid to deepen defense cooperation, the UK will provide support for new Indian-designed-and-built fighter jets, Johnson said. He added that the UK would also want to support India’s requirements for new technology to identify and respond to threats in the Indian Ocean.

Boris Johnson with Narendra Modi on Friday.

Johnson said that in the meeting with Modi, they discussed the next generation of defense and security collaborations across five domains — land, sea, air, space and cyber. “We’ve agreed to work together to meet new threats across land, sea, air, space, and cyber, including partnering on new fighter jet and maritime technologies to detect and respond to threats in the oceans,” Johnson added.

PM Modi, meanwhile, said that they had agreed to deepen cooperation in defense, including manufacture, technology, design and development, and in all these cases, welcomed the UK’s support to India’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) plan.

UK PM visits Sabarmati Ashram, meets business tycoon Gautam Adani

On his first day of visit, Johnson arrived in Ahmedabad, becoming the first British prime minister to visit Gujarat, and visited Sabarmati Ashram. He hailed Mahatma Gandhi as an “extraordinary man” who mobilized the principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for the better. “It is an immense privilege to come to the ashram of this extraordinary man, and to understand how he mobilized such simple principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for the better,” he wrote in the visitors’ book at the ashram .

Johnson at Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad on Thursday morning, where he tries his hand at the ‘Charkha’ (Express/Nirmal Harindran)

An official release from the state government said that at the Ashram, Johnson was gifted two books — Guide to London and an autobiography of Mirabehn, British national Madeleine Slade, who was a close follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

The UK PM also met business tycoon Gautam Adani. After their meeting, Adani took Twitter and wrote: “Honored to host Boris Johnson, the first UK PM to visit Gujarat, at Adani HQ. Delighted to support climate & sustainability agenda with focus on renewables, green H2 & new energy. Will also work with UK companies to co-create defense & aerospace technologies.”

Johnson’s schedule in Gujarat also included visits to a manufacturing facility of JCB, a British construction equipment firm in the Panchmahal district, Gujarat Biotechnology University and the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.

Boris Johnson vows to visit Gujarat again, drive a Jaguar Land Rover

After his visit, Johnson told the office of the Deputy High Commission in Ahmedabad that he will be returning to Gujarat and the “next time Deputy he wants to drive a Jaguar Land Rover”, British High Commissioner Peter Cook told The Indian Express. “This (Jaguar Land Rover) is the best India-UK collaboration,” said Cook, who is based in Ahmedabad, sharing that on this tour the Prime Minister rode a BMW. The Jaguar Land Rover is manufactured by Tata Motors.

Johnson was also “happy” about his visit to the Gujarat Biotechnology University (GBU) which has come up in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh at Gandhinagar. “He is very keen on collaboration on new technology, vaccines,” said Cook, the latter being a reference to the AstraZeneca/Oxford University collaboration with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for manufacturing vaccines in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic .

The British Prime Minister also hailed the “people to people ties” between the UK and India and said he wanted to take it further. Currently, there are 99,000 Indian students in the UK, Cook added.

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