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Modi’s trip shows India & EU can grow closer despite differences on Russia’s Ukraine invasion

While the Ukraine war did dominate the agenda at Modi's meetings with European leaders, a wider acceptance of India’s stance vis-à-vis Russia was also witnessed.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to key European capitals — Paris, Copenhagen and Berlin — within days of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to New Delhi has paved the way for greater convergence between India and the European Union (EU), despite their differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

PM Modi Thursday returned to India, concluding his three-day tour to France, Denmark and Germany, where he held bilateral meetings with their leaders.

While the Ukraine war did dominate the agenda at the meetings, a wider acceptance of India’s stance vis-à-vis Russia was also witnessed as the leaders sought to work on the “actionable items”, top-level diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

Working towards greater convergence with India, Europe is also looking at long-term plans and partnerships in an effort to sever all ties with Russia due to the Ukraine war. The age-old economic ties between Europe and China have also come under strain as Moscow and Beijing have vowed to establish a “no-limits” friendship.

During the trip, Modi also attended the second India-Nordic Summit, in which he held bilateral talks with the leaders of the Nordic countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

According to a European diplomat, this was a “much-needed visit” by Prime Minister Modi as “all difficult issues were thrashed out”. Both sides now have a “better understanding” of the Ukraine war and the EU has decided to “prioritise” its relationship with India, the diplomat added.

Mohan Kumar, Chairman of Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said, “with this visit, we have sent a signal to the US and other important strategic partners of ours that we cannot put all eggs in one basket and we wish Europe to emerge as an independent, strong military pole in a truly multipolar world”.

Sources also said that India’s position has “evolved in the course of the war” as the situation has worsened, and that can be seen in New Delhi’s open condemnation of the killings in Bucha, Ukraine, even though New Delhi has not named Moscow as the “main aggressor”.

When Russia began its “military operation” in Ukraine on 24 February, India initially chose to tread cautiously on the matter. As the conflict progressed, European ministers were seen making a beeline for India to assess the country’s position, and see if PM Modi could leverage his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin to put an end to the conflict, sources said.

Kumar, former Indian envoy to France, added: “India wants EU to be an independent pole in a multipolar world and so there is a fundamental interest that is key here for us. India has shrewdly started condemning the aggression and the violent actions without naming the perpetrator and we have said there will be no winner in this war.”

During Modi’s meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Russia was mentioned for the first time in a joint statement for its invasion of Ukraine, and this was followed in the subsequent joint statements with Denmark as well as France.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen asked PM Modi to “influence” the Russian President to stop the war.

Modi, addressing a joint press conference with Scholz in Berlin, said: “We believe there will be no winner in this war and all will suffer losses. Therefore, we are on the side of peace.”

Also read: Ukraine, trade, defence & energy security to dominate PM’s Europe trip agenda

Areas of convergence between India and EU

Europe, according to another source, is planning to enhance its investment and trade ties with India by expediting talks for clinching the long-pending India-EU free trade agreement (FTA).

During Modi’s meetings with Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron — the two most important players in the EU — a decision was taken to relaunch negotiations for the FTA from where they got stalled in 2013, and also discuss an investment pact separately.

India, the source said, also made it clear to the EU that just as it is continuing to buy oil and gas from Russia, New Delhi will have to procure arms and oil from Moscow.

Last month, India and the EU decided to launch the EU-India Trade and Technology Council — an initiative Brussels only had with the US before.

According to the joint statement issued after Modi’s meeting with Macron in Paris, “India and France reaffirmed their commitment to deepen India-EU Strategic Partnership and look forward to closely work together in the implementation of the India-EU Connectivity Partnership and the decisions made at the India-EU Leaders’ Meeting in Porto in May 2021.”

“They welcomed the recent launch of the India-EU Trade and Technology Council that will foster high-level coordination on strategic aspects of trade, technology and security as well as the restart of negotiations on India-EU Agreements on Trade, Investment and Geographical Indicators,” it added.

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters before leaving Paris that “discussions in the field of defence were focused more on how the two countries can partner more strongly in the field of co-designing, co-development, co-production of different defence equipment in India”.

Modi’s visit to Europe comes a month after the EU and China held a virtual summit, which Josep Borrell, EU’s foreign affairs chief, described as a “dialogue of the deaf”.

Garima Mohan, senior fellow (Asia programme), German Marshall Fund, said: “European leaders and policymakers are convinced by India’s position and understand the stand it has taken. It is also important to note that India’s position has evolved as the (Ukraine) war has worsened, civilian casualties have increased and effects of the conflict are now being felt beyond the borders of Europe.

“The joint statement by all prime ministers after the Nordic Summit reflects this change. India and Europe also agreed to ‘remain closely engaged on the issue’ — keeping a channel of communication open.”

Ukraine, Mohan added, “was not the only issue in this trip”.

“Europe is aware of the importance of the Indo-Pacific. It has invested a lot in the partnership with India over the last few years, which is why, despite some differences on Ukraine, the Europe-India partnership has continued strong,” she said.

“Through the creation of the Trade and Technology Council with the EU, cooperation on critical technology, innovation, 5G, investments in telecom and other infrastructure, defence cooperation — the basis of the Europe-India partnership has broadened considerably.”

In defence and security, too, India and the EU have decided to work more under the Indo-Pacific framework while expanding their joint military exercises.

“India and France welcomed the ongoing intense cooperation across all defence domains and decided to expand their joint exercises — Shakti, Varuna, Pegase, Desert Knight and Garuda — for ‘better integration and interoperability’,” said the India-France joint statement.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: EU pushes for energy cooperation with India as it aims to ‘diversify away’ from Russian oil

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