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Boris Johnson tries to lure India to the West – POLITICO

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LONDON – Britain and its closest security allies want to wean India off Russian weapons. But Boris Johnson will find New Delhi’s relationship with Moscow difficult to unravel.

Johnson’s two-day trip to India, which begins Thursday after being twice postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to focus largely on politics, particularly defense, energy security and trade. No business delegation will travel with the British leader and his agenda is limited to engagements with Indian firms.

On Thursday, Johnson will visit Ahmedabad in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where he is expected to announce investments in key industries in Britain and India, including a new science, health and technology partnership.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added a new dimension to the trip, which was previously aimed at improving post-Brexit Britain-India relations.

The West has a number of demands on India: not to increase its imports of Russian fossil fuels or make new arms deals with Russian producers; not signal a strategic orientation towards Moscow; and not to fill the void left by Western companies that left Russia in the wake of international sanctions over the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Johnson stressed geopolitics in the media ahead of his trip: India is “a valued strategic partner for the UK in these uncertain times,” the statement said. “With autocratic states threatening our peace and prosperity, it is vital that democracies and friends stick together.”

New Delhi has sought to maintain an increasingly difficult balance between the Western bloc, with which Modi hopes to boost trade, and Russia, its historic defense and security ally.

India also relies heavily on Russian defense equipment and fears a move away from Moscow could push Russian President Vladimir Putin to China – further emboldening Beijing in the Indo-Pacific and stoking more tensions on the China-India border, Harsh V said. Pant, Vice President for Studies and Foreign Policy at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi. This has led to India abstaining in the UN vote condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Few expect Johnson to be able to persuade Modi to align dramatically with the West against Russia.

“It would be very difficult for the UK to put these arguments to India to reduce its dependence on Russia,” Pant said. “India has argued that this is not a short-term process.”

Even if India takes some small steps west, Modi will want to keep a communication channel open with Moscow, Pant added, to prevent Russia and China from leaving India “marginalized” in Asia.

Johnson is keeping expectations low, according to a businessperson familiar with the UK-India talks. “I don’t think Boris Johnson would go there expecting India to start changing the way it votes in the United Nations,” they said.

It’s all about guns

Still, over the past decade, India has diversified its arms imports, buying more from countries like the US, France, Israel, Australia and Japan. This has enabled the Asian giant to reduce its reliance on Russian defense equipment from around 80 percent to just over 50 percent.

Last week, Indian media reported The country has canceled plans to buy 48 Mi-17 V5 helicopters from Russia as it pushes for domestically-made military equipment.

but What the country buys is just as important as how much it spends. India still buys strategic equipment from Russia. It recently bought five key S400 surface-to-air missiles in a $5 billion deal that led to it The US threatens India with sanctions after New Delhi preferred the Russian-made missiles to the American Patriot PAC 3.

India’s nuclear submarines are also based on Russian technology, its aircraft carrier is a Russian carrier loaded with Russian equipment, and most of its warplanes, tanks and guns are of Russian origin.

Since the Cold War, the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation have been seen by many in India as greater supporters of their interests at the UN than the West. Crucial to this was Moscow’s willingness to sell advanced defense equipment to India – kits that no western country was willing to supply.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and post-Brexit Britain’s appetite for more international trade mean the conditions are ripe for a change of course.

While Britain is unable to offer India a replacement for S400 missiles, Johnson has an ace up its sleeve: to encourage long-term co-production of highly sensitive defense technologies by British subsidiaries in India and local firms.

India will not accelerate its decoupling from Russian defense technology unless Western companies allow Indian firms access to their know-how, said Dominic Asquith, a former British high commissioner for India.

Pant was blunt: The West, he said, must start treating India “as a reliable partner.”

Show that you trust me

But that will take some work. British companies’ distrust of Indian intellectual property protection, Indian state-owned manufacturers’ dominance in the country’s defense industry and long, troubled Indian procurement processes have hampered previous attempts to bring companies from both countries together in joint defense technology projects.

The Indian government has sought to address these issues and is also encouraging domestic manufacturing through Modi’s Make in India campaign. With a defense budget of around £52 billion for the 2022-23 financial year and increasing production of defense equipment by Indian private companies, the scope for joint British-Indian projects is significant, industry voices say.

Aaditya Dave, research analyst at UK-based defense think tank RUSI, said India is likely to prioritize bilateral cooperation with the UK and other countries, particularly Australia, Japan and the US – the three members who together with India make up the Quad, an Indo-Pacific diplomatic network that China claims is as dangerous as Russia claims NATO expansion is.

“In terms of trust, the UK-India relationship is much better now than it was two or even three years ago,” said Dave.

Defense trade between the UK and India will see a “major surge” in the coming years, said Suresh Surana, founder of consultancy RSM India, but India will gradually move towards only buying critical components from UK companies when they are in the Asian region country to be produced.

Nevertheless, gray areas remain. Research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab released on Monday linked India and three other countries to infecting the mobile phones of officials at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office with Pegasus spyware in 2020 and 2021. NSO, the Israeli company behind the software, claims it only sells it to government organizations.

oil talks

Although the focus of Johnson’s trip will be security, Asquith said it was important for the British prime minister to “keep the momentum going” in bilateral UK-India trade talks, due to resume next week, by reporting progress on non-tariff barriers to trade such as intellectual property and investment protection.

After a round of state elections won by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the largest state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s prime minister will focus on other races later this year, including in his home state of Gujarat in December.

“Confronting Russia or supporting the West doesn’t resonate much with voters,” Asquith said. “There are some in the political elite and in parts of the military who have sympathy for Russia. It is unquestionably true that for most Indians, Ukraine is quite a long way away and they do not feel as emotionally connected to what is happening there as Europeans do.”

Modi will also initially focus on protecting the Indian economy. Since early March, India has increased its imports of heavily discounted Russian oil. It also imported more Russian coal last month, hitting highs not seen in more than two years, according to data Data from commodity intelligence firm Kpler.

Europe’s own heavy reliance on Russian fossil fuels is undermining Western claims on India on the energy front, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said. Earlier this month, Jaishankar told a news conference in Washington that his country’s total purchase of Russian oil in April would be less than what Europe buys in an afternoon.

“If you are considering energy purchases from Russia, I would suggest that you should turn your attention to Europe,” he said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the former British High Commissioner for India. His name is Dominic Asquith.

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