Ukraine war may dominate Boris Johnson’s agenda

Official discussions will cover shape of India-U.K. relations over next decade, says source

Updated - April 21, 2022 11:04 am IST

Published - April 20, 2022 07:59 pm IST - NEW DELHI

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. File

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

The crisis in Ukraine is likely to dominate the April 21-22 visit of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson but the official discussions will also cover the shape of India-U.K. relations over the next decade, a source familiar with the details said.

India’s neutral position on the nearly two-month-long Russian military campaign in Ukraine has been at the centre of western mobilisation against Russia but it was learnt on Thursday that the British Prime Minister is unlikely to “lecture” India about the need to adopt a tougher line.

“Prime Minister Johnson will not lecture India on Ukraine but he will surely put the U.K.’s position and listen to Indian perspective. The U.K. will not lose sight of the Indo-Pacific and this will be central to talks when both sides meet,” an informed source said about the agenda of the visit. The representative stated that Mr. Johnson had been "determined" about visiting India.

Ukraine visit

Mr. Johnson paid a surprise visit to Ukraine earlier this month and his government has been actively supporting the war-torn country in bolstering its defensive mechanism. India in contrast has not condemned the Russian invasion and has abstained repeatedly at the United Nations Security Council and in other multilateral platforms where Russia drew widespread condemnation for the ongoing military attacks on Ukraine.

Mr. Johnson will arrive in Ahmedabad on Thursday morning. The Hindu had reported that the he will meet industrialist Gautam Adani during his stay in Ahmedabad. He is also expected to travel to industrial sites in Gujarat. The source, however, refused to provide specific details of the investment plans that Mr. Johnson may declare during the visit to Gujarat. His visit comes in the backdrop of continued discussion on a free trade agreement (FTA) and the leader will “encourage” talks as the visit will be a “staging point” for faster dialogue on resolving the bottlenecks regarding the FTA.

Discussion in Delhi

Official discussion with Mr. Johnson will take place in Delhi on Friday when he will meet the Indian delegation headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The formal talks may feature India’s concerns on the extremist Khalistani elements who have hit the headlines repeatedly in the recent past because of online anti-India campaign. The source said that the issue of Khalistanis comes up often in bilateral discussion and added, “the U.K. is a country which wants to counter anyone who is on wrong side of the law.”

It is understood that despite the looming shadow of the Ukraine crisis, which is a major issue for the Johnson government, which is also facing the “partygate” scandal at home, Downing Street considers the visit a “big deal” as this will determine the outline of bilateral ties during the coming decade.

The U.K. has placed India at the centre of its post-Brexit foreign policy and the visit is expected to focus on the long-term possibilities that are emerging in the backdrop of the pandemic-related collaboration over vaccine production and the return of violent conflicts to Europe.

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