In the time of war: On India’s ties with Europe without upsetting Russia

India will have to find a way of building ties with Europe without upsetting Russia

May 05, 2022 12:05 am | Updated 01:20 am IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation visit to Europe comes at a time when the continent is facing its biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War. In Germany, Mr. Modi and Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated the partnership between the two countries. Berlin has also announced €10 billion for bilateral cooperation. In Copenhagen, Mr. Modi attended the India-Nordic summit with leaders of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. In the last leg, the Prime Minister held talks in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was re-elected recently. While bilateral issues are at the centre of these meetings, the elephant in the room is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Modi’s trip comes a few days after the President of the European Commission, Ursula von Der Leyen, visited India. New Delhi’s neutral position on the war has triggered both criticism and engagement from the West. India has seen several high-profile visits from the West, with some top officials pressing New Delhi to cut back on trade with Russia, a traditional strategic partner. Among the Nordic five, Sweden and Finland are now considering dropping their decades-long neutrality and seeking NATO membership.

In Germany, however, both sides showed pragmatism over the Ukraine question. Germany, like India, has deep economic ties with Russia — if for India it is about defence supplies, for Germany, it is for almost 40% of its gas import requirements. While the Russian aggression has prompted Germany to raise its defence spending and join the western sanctions regime, it has been reluctant in sending weapons to Kyiv, compared to other NATO members in Eastern Europe. While Mr. Scholz urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stop this senseless murder and withdraw your troops”, Mr. Modi’s response was more measured. He said that no party could emerge victorious and that dialogue was the only way out. India and Germany also unveiled the contours of the next level of their partnership. Germany has said India is its “central partner” in Asia and that close cooperation would continue to expand. Europe is expected to take a more securitised approach to foreign policy from now, given the direction of the Ukraine conflict. In the post-Cold War world when Europe witnessed relative stability, India managed to build strong ties with both the West and Russia. But that era of multi-directional partnerships is facing its strongest test now with the West seeking to “weaken” Russia and Moscow warning of a new world war. The challenge before New Delhi is to build a stronger strategic future with Europe without immediately disrupting its complex but vital partnership with an increasingly isolated, angry Russia.

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