Britain’s trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has admitted she is uncomfortable about India “sitting on the fence” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – as Liz Truss begins a visit to the country.
Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, will urge India’s government to join other democracies in condemning Vladimir Putin’s action – with trade, investment and cyber security also on the agenda during the trip.
There is growing concern in the West over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reluctance to publicly denounce the actions of Russia, an ally of India since the Cold War.
Ms Trevelyan told Sky News that “standing up for democratic nations and peaceful borders” was “something that we want to see everyone doing”.
“We understand why they’ve chosen to sit on the fence at the moment – they have connections in both directions,” she said.
“But for us, it’s really important to see all countries who believe in democracy and the rule of law, and indeed defending your own territorial borders and wanting to have that sovereignty respected by those around you, to stand up for that.”
Ms Trevelyan was pressed by Sky’s Kay Burley on whether it sits comfortably with her doing business with a country which is “by omissions sanctioning the death of innocents”.
She replied: “No, it doesn’t, and I think we have to be clear that we continue to stand up for democratic countries where the right to live peacefully in your sovereign nation is something that should be respected by all.”
India relies heavily on Moscow for arms imports and has abstained in a series of votes in the United Nations over the invasion.
The government agreed this month to import three million barrels of heavily discounted Russian oil after Moscow had to drop prices because of international sanctions.
There are concerns the relatively small amount of oil is a precursor for more purchases in the coming months, which could weaken the impact of Western sanctions on Russia.
Liz Truss’ visit is not just about Russia. She will confirm £70m of UK investment funding to support renewable energy development in India, one of the world’s biggest users of hydrocarbons.
She will also announce a new joint cyber security programme to protect online infrastructure in both countries from attacks.
Trade is also likely to be on the agenda after the two countries launched free trade deal talks in January with the aim of signing an agreement by the end of the year that could boost trade by billions of pounds.
But there are other troubles brewing in India that Ms Truss will have to contend with, including a ban on wearing hijabs in classrooms in Karnataka state, seen as a bid to sideline minority Muslims in the largely Hindu nation.
There are fears similar bans could be enforced in other states after a court upheld the decision, prompting some female Muslim students to consider dropping out of college.
Tensions between India and Pakistan have also risen recently, with two suspected rebels killed in a shootout with government forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s main city early on Wednesday, police said.
The neighbouring countries each claim the divided territory of Kashmir in its entirety, with tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces killed in the conflict since 1989.
Since becoming prime minister in 2019, Boris Johnson has attempted to build stronger relations with India, striking a landmark agreement with Mr Modi last year to strengthen ties over the coming decade.
Ahead of her trip to India, Ms Truss said: “Deeper ties between Britain and India will boost security in the Indo-Pacific and globally, and create jobs and opportunities in both countries.
“This matters even more in the context of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and underlines the need for free democracies to work closer together in areas like defence, trade and cyber security.
“India is an economic and tech powerhouse, the world’s largest democracy and a great friend of Britain, and I want to build an even closer relationship between our two nations.”