India and the United Kingdom have called on Russia to declare an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an expansion of economic and defence ties.
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, Harsh Shringla, India’s foreign secretary, said.
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 criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and abstained when the United Nations General Assembly voted this month to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.
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 defence, 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 US 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 per cent of which is imported.
Last month, state-run Indian Oil Corp bought three million barrels of crude from Russia to secure its needs, resisting foreign pressure to avoid such purchases.
In the early 1990s, more than 70 per cent of Indian defence equipment was of Soviet origin.
India is now diversifying its defence procurement but experts say up to 60 per cent of its current military equipment was acquired from Russia.
“India has a historic relationship with Russia and everybody respects it,” Johnson said.
India and the UK have agreed to collaborate on the manufacturing of defence equipment, systems, spare parts and components through a transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures.
Johnson said the UK will issue an open general export licence to India, reducing bureaucracy and shortening delivery times for defence procurement.
He said he and Modi also discussed new co-operation 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.
Johnson said the two countries will try to conclude a free trade deal by October that is expected to double their current $US50 billion ($A68 billion) trade by 2030.
“There are some difficult issues,” he said.
“But there are big opportunities, we can get it done. I’m optimistic.”