By ASHOK SHARMA
NEW DELHI (AP) — India and Britain on Friday called on Russia to declare an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an expansion of economic and defense ties that could help India reduce its dependence on Moscow.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he and Johnson discussed the situation in Ukraine during a meeting in New Delhi and underscored the importance of diplomacy and dialogue.
Johnson did not pressure Modi to take a tougher stand against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, said Harsh Shringla, India’s foreign secretary.
Modi has called the situation in Ukraine “very worrying” and has appealed to both sides for peace. While India has condemned the killings of civilians in Ukraine, it has so far not criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin, and abstained when the U.N. General Assembly voted this month to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.
India was an ally of Moscow during the Cold War but has since sought to maintain ties with both Russia and Western nations.
Johnson used the Hindi language to describe Modi as a “Khaas Dost,” or special friend, and said, “Our relations have never been as strong or as good between us as they are now.’’
He told reporters that the world “faces growing threats from autocratic states which seek to undermine democracy, choke off free and fair trade and trample on sovereignty.”
“Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defense, is of vital importance as we look to the future,″ Johnson said.
He said India had come out strongly against killings in Bucha earlier this month, and that Modi had “already intervened several times with Vladimir Putin to ask him what on Earth he is doing and where it is going.”
Modi has responded coolly to pressure from U.S. President Joe Biden and others to curb imports of Russian oil in response to the invasion.
India is the world’s third-largest consumer of oil after the United States and China, over 80% of which is imported. Last month, state-run Indian Oil Corp. bought 3 million barrels of crude from Russia to secure its needs, resisting Western pressure to avoid such purchases.
In the early 1990s, more than 70% of Indian defense equipment was of Soviet origin. India is now diversifying its defense procurement, but experts say up to 60% of its current military equipment was acquired from Russia.
“India has a historic relationship with Russia and everybody respects it,” Johnson said.
India and Britain have agreed to collaborate on the manufacturing of defense equipment, systems, spare parts and components through a transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures.
Johnson said Britain will issue an open general export license to India, reducing bureaucracy and shortening delivery times for defense procurement.
He said he and Modi also discussed new cooperation on clean and renewable energy, aimed at supporting India’s energy transition away from imported oil and increasing its resilience through secure and sustainable energy.
India welcomed Britain’s commitment to invest $1 billion in climate-related projects in India between 2022 and 2026, according to a joint statement issued after the talks between the leaders.
Johnson said a collaboration between the two countries on energy security, including solar and offshore wind power, will help reduce dependence on imported hydrocarbons.
He said the two countries will try to conclude a free trade deal by October that is expected to double their current $50 billion trade by 2030.
“There are some difficult issues,” he said. “But there are big opportunities, we can get it done. I’m optimistic.”
Associated Press writer Krutika Pathi contributed to this report.
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