British Johnson will offer India to help build its own fighter jets

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NEW DELHI — Britain will offer to step up defense cooperation with India, such as helping to build its own fighter jets and faster delivery of defense equipment, in talks between their prime ministers on Friday, as the West tries to alienate India from Russia.

During his first visit to New Delhi as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will discuss with Narendra Modi ways to strengthen trade and security ties with the South Asian country which buys more than half of its military equipment from the Russia.

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“This is a very auspicious moment in a relationship and a friendship between two democracies,” Johnson said after Modi briefly greeted him at the presidential palace ahead of the talks on the final day of a two-day visit.

“I don’t think the relationship has ever been better.”

The effort follows an attempt by the United States last month to steer India away from Russia, with its own offer of more defense and energy sales, after President Joe Biden called India of “somewhat fragile” in acting against Russia.

Britain hopes its offer of closer security ties with the West will encourage India to distance itself from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a special military operation.

India abstained in a United Nations vote condemning the invasion and did not impose sanctions on Moscow, adopting a stance that sparked a recent flurry of diplomatic activity, including visits by foreign ministers. Foreign Affairs of Russia and China.

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Britain has said it plans to support India’s long-standing goal of building its own fighter jets, to cut costly imports of military equipment. India now has a mix of Russian, British and French fighter jets.

The former British colonial ruler will issue a so-called open general export license to India to shorten the delivery time of defense articles. Only the European Union and the United States now have such licenses, Johnson’s spokesman said.

The offer of closer security ties would also lead to more joint military exercises and exchanges of officers.

RUSSIAN EQUIPMENT

Although the British offer of greater security cooperation was welcome, India will remain dependent on Russian military equipment, in part because it is cheaper, said Mohan Guruswamy, director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi.

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“Russia’s offer to India is still ‘Our wardrobe is open’, (but) Britain is not offering India everything it wants and makes available is usually more expensive,” he said.

Johnson and Modi will also discuss trade as they try to push for a deal well before general elections in the two countries in 2024.

Britain’s trade with India in 2019 was worth 23 billion pounds ($29.93 billion), UK data shows, an amount dwarfed by trade with neighboring Ireland, a nation of around 4 million people. .

But with the second largest population in the world at nearly 1.4 billion, India offers a vast pool of potential customers.

Any trade deal is likely to hinge on relaxing rules and lowering fees for Indian students and professionals traveling to Britain.

Speaking on the plane to India, Johnson said he was prepared to be more accommodating on the issue, adding that Britain was facing a massive shortage of hundreds of thousands of workers, in particularly in sectors such as information technology. ($1 = 0.7685 pounds) (Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

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