From Foreign Policy South Asia Brief: From the moment Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the war has presented a challenge for Indian foreign policy. Western governments have pressed New Delhi to take a stand against the invasion and to stop doing business with Russia. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used a visit to Europe this week to show that his government won’t let Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war undermine a key foreign-policy goal: deepening ties with the European Union.
During his trip, Modi visited three capitals that have made their positions on the conflict in Ukraine clear: Berlin, Copenhagen, and Paris. Germany has shifted its pacifist foreign policy and promised military assistance, Denmark has offered to supply troops for a potential peacekeeping mission, and France has called for extensive sanctions on Russia. In Copenhagen, Modi participated in an India-Nordic Summit with Finland and Sweden, which have both responded to the invasion by pursuing NATO membership.
Modi came armed with pushback points: If pressed to reduce arms imports from Russia, he could have pointed to the tenfold increase in Indian arms imports from France in recent years, for example. But he may not have needed such rebuttals. Despite Europe’s unhappiness with India’s stance, Modi still managed to leverage growing areas of partnership to advance New Delhi’s relations with the region during his visit. Most readouts from Modi’s trip highlight new agreements and pledge deeper cooperation in a range of areas.
Security cooperation has progressed since the EU released a new Indo-Pacific strategy last year that reflects a rules-based vision for the region favored by India and offers potential for deepening maritime and cybersecurity collaboration. Owing in great part to its territorial holdings in the region, France has long been an active Indo-Pacific player. A joint statement after Modi’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday pledged cooperation in diverse security spheres, from defense technology to space issues.
Despite European concerns about India’s investment and regulatory environment, trade also remains an area ripe for growth. The EU is India’s third-largest trade partner and the second-largest destination for Indian exports. Trade in goods between India and the EU grew by nearly 13 percent over the last decade; between 2020 and 2021 alone, it increased by $23 billion. Modi’s trip produced new commercial accords with Germany and Denmark, including on green shipping and skills development.
India and the EU have also made progress on climate cooperation. Last year, they agreed to implement a clean energy and climate partnership concluded in 2016. Just last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited India and called on the two sides to step it up. Denmark, France, and Germany are all top candidates to supply India with clean energy technology as New Delhi attempts to keep up with its pledge to scale up renewables and phase out carbon emissions; Modi inked new accords on clean energy with Germany and Denmark.
Finally, there is the Indian diaspora. Germany has the third-highest Indian population in Europe. In each country Modi visited, the diaspora community is highly skilled, making it a key source of remittances for India and a potential catalyst for bilateral commercial deals. Diaspora members can also serve as a bridge between Europe and India, promoting more cooperation—just as Indian Americans do for U.S.-India relations. Modi held events with enthusiastic diaspora members in Berlin and Copenhagen, allowing him to showcase the community there.
Post-meeting readouts and public comments from Modi’s hosts suggest that Ukraine was discussed extensively during his trip to Europe. But that didn’t stop him from making headway in key areas of cooperation. Modi’s visit to Europe shows that Russia’s war in Ukraine may hover over Indian foreign-policy objectives, but it won’t necessarily hinder them.
“THE BRIEF covers all the points I could think of,” an Asia Pacific-based geopolitical analyst says.
“IT SEEMS Modi has overcome the Ukraine challenges. But this success is not the result of their foreign policy; no, sir — it’s because of the enormous market- size of India. Europe and the US will immediately look away from such violations, if their “economic, political and long-term national interests” so demand. Don’t you remember they kept on giving yearly certificate to the congress on our (Pakistan’s) nuclear program because they needed our help to eject USSR from Afghanistan? As soon the demand ended, they stopped giving certification and around half a dozen of sanctions were slapped over us. I see only one possibility — Indians are telling them that we are a huge country and we can’t survive without the oil and gas we get from Russia. BUT, when push comes to shove, we (India) will abandon them and join you guys. Till then, we will make all the right noises and continue to milk the the cow!” -Comment from Mushtaque Siddiqui, Editor Al-Akhbar Daily Urdu paper, Islamabad
“WESTERN strategy to woo India as a liberal and democratic country toward anti-China axis is misplaced to say the least. India in its present form is neither democratic nor liberal, and also it has its own ambitions of being a global power in its own right -in a Multipolar World.” -Comment by Amb. G R Baloch, foreign affairs observer and columnist based in Karachi