India is a key partner of the United Kingdom and the two countries are negotiating a new trade agreement, British foreign secretary Liz Truss told CNN-News18 in an interview during her India visit on Thursday. The UK is cutting down on its strategic dependence on Russia and China and it wants to work more with friends like India, said Truss, who was in New Delhi the same day as her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Edited excerpts:
#Exclusive | We want to work more closely with India in areas like technology, energy, security and defense: Liz Truss (@trussliz) UK Foreign Secretary tells @SiddiquiMaha pic.twitter.com/Qk2Qy35slq— News18 (@CNNnews18) March 31, 2022
This is your second visit in six months to India and this time you come with a clear message, I understand, on the Ukraine issue. What message have you communicated to the Indian side as far as Russia is concerned and how has it been received?
The reason I’m here in India is that the Indian relationship is very important to the UK. We see India as a key partner. We want to work much more closely together in areas like technology, negotiating trade agreements. We want to work more closely in areas like energy, security and defence, and the situation in Russia and Ukraine has shattered European security. We’re in a different world now, we’re in a more insecure world, and this time it is vital that we work with our friends to improve our mutual security. And that’s what I’m here in India to talk about today.
I understand that there was a message that you wanted to communicate to the Indian side as far as reducing the dependencies on Russia is concerned. Is there anything specific that you communicated on that?
Well, I think we need to look at our reliance on overseas authoritarian countries. We’re doing that in the United Kingdom. We don’t want to be strategically dependent on the countries we cannot rely on. We are doing more to make sure we produce at home, but we are doing more to make sure that we work with trusted partners. And these are the discussions that we are having with India about how can the UK and India improve our domestic resilience, how can we ensure, for example, in areas like defence and energy, that we are not dependent on other countries, that we don’t have a single point of failure, if you like, in terms of supplies of whether it is critical mineral, and energy. And this is something that India and the United Kingdom can work on.
But India has already shown its intention to buy the discounted oil from Russia. Did that come up in the discussion?
I am not going to interfere in India’s sovereign decisions, but we all recognise that we need to make sure that we are able to be resilient and make independent sovereign decisions. What the Russia-Ukraine crisis has shown is that Europe in particular is far too dependent on Russian oil and gas. And that has enabled Vladimir Putin to fund his war machine in Ukraine, but it has also enabled him to cross countries in Europe, and I think we have recognised that there is a cost to be paid for having cheap goods, and cheap oil and gas. So the UK is looking to ban Russian oil from the UK by the end of this year. We’re looking to reduce our dependence. We have put sanctions on the Russian economy, but we also want to reduce our strategic dependence on China. We want to rely on the partners that we trust. And one of the partners that we can trust is India.
But I understand that many European countries have not been very happy or rather been unhappy with India’s stand with regards to Ukraine in the United Nations Security Council or the UN platforms. Why isn’t India’s position viewed as neutral by the European countries? I mean, after all, India abstained from a resolution backed by Russia last week as well. And India has shown intention that it wants to keep its foreign policy independent and sovereign.
We are very clear that Russia has violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that should worry countries across the world. Because if authoritarian regimes are allowed to do that, if an aggressor is allowed to get away with that, then that sends a terrible signal to other aggressors around the world. And that’s why the UK has taken a very strong stand, in terms of being the first European country to supply weapons to Ukraine to help them defend themselves, in terms of putting the toughest possible sanctions on Russia. But I recognise that as a sovereign decision of the UK, we want to improve our resilience, we want to eliminate any dependence on Russia, we want to reduce our dependence on authoritarian regimes, and I know that India and other countries around the world are looking to improve their domestic resilience, and that is what I’m here in India to talk about today.
Yesterday, PM Modi at the BIMSTEC summit had spoken about how the Ukraine crisis has raised questions over the international order. The Japanese prime minister has also spoken about the crisis saying that it has shaken the roots of international order. How do we get back stability in the international order? Was that a point of discussion as well?
I think that is absolutely correct. This crisis has shattered European security. We would have never expected in our lifetime that we would have seen this war taking place in Europe. And it does raise questions about defence spending; we are now saying that European countries step up in terms of defence spending. It raises questions about economic security, energy security and it also raises questions about overall global security, because this is just not restricted to the Euro-Atlantic. When a sovereign nation is invaded, and this is why we need to make sure that Putin loses in Ukraine, this can not be a suggestion to other aggressors around the world that this is something that will be normalised, or acceptable because that will have a devastating effect on global security. And this is why countries like Japan have joined the UK in putting sanctions on Russia because they recognise a cause in the issue, as this is also an issue about the respect for the territorial integrity of a nation that every country in the world can get behind.
Do you think that the Ukraine crisis has changed the relations between India and the European countries, India and the UK? Because last time you had underlined that there is growing understanding between India and the UK as far as security-related issues are concerned.
I think that this global security crisis will result in the UK and India working more closely together because our interests are aligned, we are both democracies, we both believe in sovereignty and territorial integrity. We haven’t done enough together in the past, and I think that this gives fresh impetus to us working more closely whether it is technology, whether it is on defence, or trade. Trade negotiations are taking place, we want that to be accelerated. So that we can improve the economic relations between the UK and India.
You didn’t sound very hopeful when the talks were going on between Ukraine and Russia in Turkey. You, in fact, warned that Ukraine could be shortchanged. Where is that apprehension coming from?
I don’t believe that the Russians are serious about the talks until they withdraw their troops from Ukraine. The fact is while they’re claiming that they’re a part of negotiations, at the same time, they are shelling innocent civilians in Ukraine. That is appalling, and we will take those talks seriously only when Vladimir Putin withdraws his troops from Ukraine. I don’t see how the Ukrainians are expected to negotiate with guns to their heads.
Are we likely to finalise an interim deal by the April end, because that was the timeline that was set, and a final deal by the year-end? Are we going by that timeline now?
Increased trade between India and the UK is very important. There is so much that we have in common, there is so much that we can work on. So I want to see as rapid progress as possible. This is why I am doing my third visit to India because this is a very important relationship for us and we’re going to push as hard as we can to get the best possible deal that will benefit the people of the UK and the people of India.