Stand on Ukraine | Government planning high-level diplomatic outreach

U.K. PM Boris Johnson to visit India; PM Modi to leave for Europe and Jaishankar, Rajnath to head to Washington

April 06, 2022 10:49 pm | Updated 11:10 pm IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. File

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. File | Photo Credit: AP

As differences with the United States, the E.U. and other allied partners grow over India’s position on Russia and Ukraine, the government is planning to reach out with a number of high–level diplomatic meetings planned in the next few months, sources said.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will travel to Washington over the weekend for “2+2” ministerial talks with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defence Secretary Gen. (Retd.) Lloyd Austin and other meetings on April 11–13 and will travel later this month to Tokyo for another “2+2”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to visit India on April 21–22 while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself expected to travel to Germany for bilateral meetings and Denmark to attend the Nordic Summit in the first week of May, and to Tokyo for the Quad summit with leaders of Australia, Japan and the U.S. in June.

The sources stressed that each of these visits has been planned for some time and could not take place earlier due to successive waves of the pandemic. However, the ongoing war in Ukraine and discussions on how to stop the Russian military operations there will be at the top of the agenda for all the foreign dignitaries engaging with India.

While the programme is still being finalised, officials said they are discussing a possible summit in Gujarat for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Modi on April 21. The two leaders are expected to sign a number of agreements with the officials putting a breakthrough on the India-UK Free Trade Agreement talks as “major priority”, as well as discussions on increasing cooperation in the Indo–Pacific.

Mr. Johnson will inaugurate a construction equipment factory set up by British company JCB, which is owned by Brexit–favouring businessman and leading donor for Britain’s ruling Conservative party, Lord Anthony Bamford. However, Mr. Johnson, who has been at the forefront of economic strictures and actions against Russia in the past few weeks, is definitely expected to discuss India’s position on Ukraine, and the Modi government’s decision to buy more Russian oil at discounted prices and set up a rupee–rouble payment mechanism to circumvent sanctions, something British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also raised during her visit to Delhi last week. Mr. Johnson had to cancel his visit twice in the past two years due to the pandemic.

PM Modi is expected to travel to Germany on May 1–2 to hold the bi–annual Inter–Governmental meeting, his first with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has been leading the European Union’s (E.U.) actions with Russia and talks over the Ukraine crisis.

In Delhi last week for consultations ahead of the meeting, German National Security Advisor (NSA) Jen Plotner had warned against any country ‘backfilling’ sanctions against Russia adding that “no friendly country” should take “economic advantage of the war” by circumventing the economic sanctions placed by the E.U.

The conversations in Copenhagen, where Mr. Modi is expected to be on May 3–4, are expected to be similarly focused, as the leaders of the Nordic countries — Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden — gather for the summit last held in Stockholm in 2018. A plan to hold the summit in Denmark in June last year had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of the Covid-Delta variant in India, though Danish PM Mette Frederiksen visited India in October 2021.

The meetings follow a series of visits by a number of diplomats and Ministers from countries that are part of the sanctions regime urging India to shift its position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, during a trip to Delhi after those visits, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear that India–Russia ties remained on track, and both sides would seek ways to ‘bypass’ what he called illegal sanctions imposed by the U.S., E.U. and partners and allies.

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