Ahead of a likely visit by U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in April, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was in Delhi for a day on Thursday, for talks on the war in Ukraine, sanctions against Russia and bolstering cooperation on trade, energy and defence.
Ahead of bilateral talks, she told The Hindu that the U.K. hopes to bolster the sanctions regime against Russia, but it was India’s sovereign decision whether to join or not.
The official statement on your visit said that it is part of a wider push on Ukraine and to discuss the need to reduce dependencies on Russia. What specifically are you here to ask of India ?
This is my third visit to India within just over a year. And we’ve been working with the Indian Government to deepen our relationship in many areas. So technology, energy, trade, we’re in the middle of the trade negotiations, defence and security. And this is about like-minded partners working together to strengthen our relationship. And I think that’s been made increasingly important by the current global security situation. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine hasn’t just shattered European security. It’s also put question marks over global security. Because if a country or if Putin can invade a sovereign nation, and undermine their territorial integrity, what message does that send to other aggressors around the world. So this is why it’s so important that the UK and India work more closely together, including improving our own domestic resilience.
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has said that India does not follow unilateral sanctions, they only follow United Nations sanctions. India is also in talks about possibly buying discounted Russian oil and a central bank team from Russia is in Mumbai discussing alternative payment mechanisms, for trade between India and Russia…
Every country has to make its own sovereign decisions. And that’s a matter for India. What I’m saying is the United Kingdom does not want to be strategically dependent on Russia, or indeed on China. And we are reducing our reliance on whether it’s technology or oil and gas. And certainly, I know that the Indian government is working on the “make in India” program to become more resilient in the long term. So I think there are a lot of things that we can do together to improve our respective domestic resilience and make sure that basically UK and India are able to are able to reduce dependency on other nations.
Have you had any indication that India has actually shifted its position when it comes to dealing with Russia?
I’m coming here with a positive agenda, which is about how we can increase the cooperation between India and the UK. We’re both democracies who believe in freedom and the rule of law. And it’s in both of our interests to work more closely together, as I said, to help set standards in technology, but to also become more resilient to the shocks that the world is facing.
You are here ahead of NATO and European Union talks next week. Are secondary sanctions on the cards?
What we’re looking at is tightening the sanctions. So we want to see more sanctions on oil and gas, we want to see a timetable for Europe to eliminate its dependence on Russian oil and gas. We want to address the issue of gold, which is being used to circumvent some of the central bank sanctions, we want to see others adopt a ban on Russian vessels imports. And we also want to see more sanctions on individuals and entities from Russia. The sanctions are working. The Russian economy has already been pushed back 15 years, but we need to do more. So we’re pushing as hard as possible to get those additional sanctions put on, but also broadening the number of countries that are put on sanctions. So, so far, we’ve seen the g7, we’ve also been joined by South Korea, by Australia, by Singapore by Switzerland. And 140 countries voted to support the major against Russia at the UN. So we’d like to see more of those countries adopt sanctions. We’re also working to increase the supply of weapons into Ukraine, again, working with our allies to do that, because [Russian President] Putin only understands strength. And the only way that he will be coming seriously to talks is if he fails in Ukraine, and that is the UK government’s aim to see Putin lose in Ukraine.
Your visit overlaps with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit here. You’ve met him in the past, do you expect to meet while you’re both in Delhi?
No, I don’t. And I last saw Minister Lavrov before the invasion of Ukraine, in Moscow. And at that point, he said publicly that Russia would not be invading Ukraine and the fact is what he said was a complete tissue of lies. And we have just seen consistent lies from the Russian government during this whole appalling, appalling invasion of Ukraine. And I reiterate my message to President Putin, which is, this is an appalling illegal invasion, he needs to withdraw his troops urgently, and stop the appalling attacks on civilians that are taking place in Ukraine, and having devastating humanitarian consequences.
India hasn’t issued any statement that criticizes Russia nor has it signed on to any resolution, and we’ve counted 11 of them in the multilateral sphere that seeks to criticize Russia in any way. Do you think India and the UK, have really failed to cooperate on this issue?
As I said, I come to India with a positive agenda, to build our relationship, and to cooperate more deeply in areas like security, defence, and trade. And I believe over time, that we will see that relationship grow. And that will be positive, in an era where there are growing threats to global security. But there is a difference between us working positively together as partners, and the UK telling India what to do. And I’m not in that business.
You kickstarted India-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks as Trade secretary earlier, will the talks be affected, slowed because of the Ukraine crisis?
I want to accelerate the FTA, and we are very committed to making this happen as well as working together in areas like Defence and Energy. And I think it is imperative that we work together to reduce dependency on autocratic coercion that’s taking place in the global economy. And countries like the UK and India, that do believe in following the rules need to be working more closely together to reduce the level of economic coercion that that we have seen and we’ve seen China engage in economic coercion as well.