Will India turn on its old ally?
Boris Johnson did not return with much to show for his trip, with the Ukraine war a major ‘obstacle’
If Boris Johnson has been feeling a bit unloved at home, his arrival in India may have been the tonic he needed, said Andrew Woodcock on The Independent. In the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad, the red carpet was “literally rolled out for the PM”.
At the airport, he was greeted by a delegation “laden down with so many bouquets of red roses” that a cart was needed to wheel the flowers away afterwards. Then, en route to his hotel, he was driven along streets lined with billboards featuring his own face, 20ft high, under the words “Welcome to Gujarat”.
Trade deals were the focus of the visit, said Kapil Komireddi in the Daily Mail, but there was a major “obstacle”: the war in Ukraine, and India’s consistent refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion or impose sanctions on Moscow. In truth, Johnson did not come home with much to show for his trip, said Heather Stewart in The Guardian. Although he hailed the prospect of a free-trade deal, talks have been ongoing for months.
There was the usual announcement of new investment projects, but on the critical issue of Ukraine, Downing Street had signalled that Johnson wasn’t expecting to influence India’s PM, Narendra Modi – and it was sensible to tamp down expectations, said The Independent. India’s trade with Moscow is helping to fund the Russian war machine, but it is hard to ask New Delhi to reduce its oil imports, when Germany is still buying Russian gas in “vast quantities”; and India may feel it has quite a lot to lose by alienating Russia – a superpower with which it has had close ties since the Cold War.
India has long profited from its partnership with Russia, said Kaush Arha in the Hindustan Times: for years, Moscow has supported India at the UN over Kashmir, and supplied it with most of its weapons. Indeed, “India’s armaments dependence [on Russia] is more entrenched than Europe’s energy dependence”. That makes it hard to wean itself off, but “wean it must”, because the geopolitical tides are shifting, and pushing Russia ever closer to China – a “totalitarian” state that is India’s “principal threat”.
If the West wants to “break India’s silence about Russia’s crimes”, said Roger Boyes in The Times, it will have to persuade Modi that it has “not forgotten the long-term menace posed by China”. India saw the logic in joining the Quad alliance, with the US, Japan and Australia, aimed at containing China; but at the moment, it sees no logic in joining an anti-Russia alliance. Surely, Indians say, it would simply drive Putin further into China’s arms, “and who benefits from that? Neither India nor the West.”