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16.05.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On India’s Narendra Modi’s European Tour


India is increasingly marking its presence in the group of leading players in the current phase of the Great Game and therefore New Delhi’s most significant acts at the gaming table deserve a more or less regular assessment.

Most noteworthy was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Europe from May 1 to 4, during which he held talks with his counterparts in Germany, Denmark (as well as some other northern European countries) and France. Readers will recall that a week earlier, the Indian leader had hosted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in New Delhi. That is, after his latest trip to Europe, Modi must have gained a relatively complete picture of the political situation on the continent, which is becoming increasingly important in the eyes of the Indian establishment.

The development of relations with the EU is to a certain extent seen in New Delhi from the perspective of the need to remain neutral in relation to the main conflict in the global political game, which today boils down to the escalating confrontation between the two main players, i.e. the US and China. India is well aware that attempts in recent years to rely on one of them (the US) while maintaining difficulties with the other could go too far and become a source of threat to the very neutral positioning of the country in the international arena.

In this respect, Europe also seems to be seen in New Delhi as a kind of counterbalance to China, but less explicitly so. For India, the EU is by and large its third largest trading partner, trailing slightly behind China and the US. The share of each of these three partners in India’s annual trade in 2020 was 12%, 11.7% and 11.1%, respectively. Meanwhile, India itself, with a 1.8% share, ranks only tenth in trade with the EU.  In the same year, Europeans had 16.1% from China and 15.2% from the USA.

In other words, Europeans, who are trying to assert their own importance on the international arena, have something to work on in their relations with a country whose role, to repeat, is growing steadily in the world processes.  And this kind of activism in relations with New Delhi on the part of both top EU officials and the leadership of the leading member states has indeed been noted in recent years.

France is particularly prominent among them, as it has a significant role in the increasingly important for India area of acquiring the most advanced weapons systems abroad and localizing their production in its territory. It was this dual purposefulness that began in the 2000s, when one of the biggest contracts in the world was awarded to France’s Dassault to deliver 126 Rafale fighters to the Indian Air Force. The result of the long delay in implementing the contract (for reasons that are still not entirely clear) was that Dassault decided not to organize production in India and the contract was reduced to 36 fighters. The first batch of five Rafales arrived to the customer only at the end of 2020. The Indian Navy’s order for six Scorpen submarines (French-Spanish design) was more successful in achieving both of these objectives.

Defense cooperation in the broader sense of the word (i.e. not just in the production of weapons systems) was also one of the main topics during the Paris talks between Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Germany is of interest to India as an important trade and economic partner (the largest among European countries) and as an investor in India’s own projects of all kinds. The talks between Narendra Modi and Chancellor Olaf Scholz took place within the framework of the once-formed regular summit platform, during which the current state of bilateral relations is assessed and new activities are outlined. On May 2, the sixth such meeting (and Prime Minister Modi’s fifth visit to Germany) was held in Berlin. The main outcome was a commitment by the German government to provide long-term aid to India to the tune of EUR 10 billion.

It is also noteworthy that the Indian leader has been invited to the forthcoming G7 summit in June, which this time will be held in Germany. That is, in this case, Chancellor Scholz exercised his right to host the event in question. Incidentally, it should be noted that the process of “courting” India by all the major Western countries continues with rather obvious objectives.

The main motiv  behind Narendra Modi’s visit to Copenhagen was to participate in the 2nd India-Nordic Summit. The latter include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. By the way, it should be noted that there is a strange (for the author at least) tendency for the ladies to represent (with the exception of Norway) the once formidable Vikings and the Finns who joined them. Although, of course, Brunhild and the other Valkyries are prominent in Scandinavian mythology.

Naturally, the “Ukrainian” theme could not be left untouched. So, commentators on the outcome of the Indian Prime Minister’s trip to the European continent are unanimous in pointing out differences in assessment of what is happening in Ukraine by the guest and the leaders of host countries. Unsurprisingly, these latter attempted to prioritize the topic in general, and Russia’s negative role in it in particular. Narendra Modi’s statements on this issue were general and boiled down to noting the negative impact of the Ukrainian conflict, both on the global environment and above all on the economic situation in developing countries. This, according to the Indian leader, justifies the need to end the conflict as soon as possible.

Speaking of which, it seems appropriate to share the author’s impressions of what he heard on popular Ukrainian internet platforms. It immediately gives the impression of a madhouse, and this impression is only getting stronger as the times goes by. The inmates of this institution spend all day long remotely identifying and interpreting “Putin’s intentions” and the intrigues in his entourage. Leaders of leading European countries, including those visited by Narendra Modi, are given grades. For the most part, very low grades. You may be surprised to learn that apparently Ukraine is leading an “anti-Putin” international coalition in which the US and the UK “also participate.” In contrast to their EU counterparts, the leaders of the latter two countries (especially the second) are rated highly. However, such a coalition may not even be necessary, since the victory over “the Ruskies” has already been all but secured, as far as the users of these platforms are concerned.

Are the Russian Air Force really abusing some kind of chemical weapon over Ukrainian territory?

It is unlikely that Ukrainian political internet platforms are visited by Indian experts, much less the country’s leadership.  Otherwise its current neutral attitude to the Ukrainian conflict and to Ukraine as such would have changed to one much less favorable.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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