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Strategic interests draw India, Greece closer

Greece controls the world’s biggest merchant shipping fleet, making it critical for India to form a partnership.

Strategic interests draw India, Greece closer

ALLY: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Athens has consistently supported New Delhi’s core foreign policy objectives. ANI



P Stobdan

Former Ambassador

GREEK Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ recent visit to New Delhi sparked excitement in Indian strategic circles. It followed PM Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Athens last year to build a ‘strategic partnership’ with the Hellenic Republic.

Inheritors of ancient civilisations, India and Greece have been faced with similar predicaments in the regional security environment in their respective regions. Adherents of non-expansionist principles, they have been forced to be defensive in the face of accusations by their neighbours. On March 25, Greece will celebrate the 203rd anniversary of its independence, marking the evolutionary process of a nation that, like India, has succumbed to foreign domination more than once. A European nation in civilisational terms, it shares vital historical elements of the Ottoman Empire. Greece is also a Mediterranean country with a strategic route for trade and culture.

Greece and India are located in geopolitically volatile areas. As recent events in the Red Sea have shown, the security of the East Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean Region are interconnected. West Asian turbulence and Islamic fundamentalism are of particular interest to Athens, as are the complex Balkan affairs characterised by political instability and rising nationalism.

Greece’s position on the eastern flank of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the idea of constructing the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) make compelling reasons for New Delhi to build strategic ties with Athens. Importantly, Greece’s position is not exclusive of the rivalry vis-a-vis Turkey in the region. Like Pakistan in India’s case, it was Turkey that preoccupied Greece’s foreign policy for decades. For Greeks, Turkey is a hegemonic power still dreaming of the Ottoman Empire. Their rivalry centres on the long-running Cyprus conflict since the early 1950s, which culminated in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the occupation of 36 per cent of the Cypriot territory for the last 50 years. Since then, Greece and Turkey have been locked in a set of disputes ranging from conflicting claims of sovereignty over the delimitation of their maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean to discord over islands in the Aegean Sea. There has been a thaw in Greco-Turkish relations lately, but it focuses on the bilateral rather than the complex trilateral Cyprus factor.

The détente assumes significance against the ongoing Hamas-Israel war and conflicts in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Regional tensions have escalated since the discovery of gas by Israel, Cyprus and Egypt, which prompted Turkey to send drilling ships into the Eastern Mediterranean. The civil war in Libya exacerbated tensions between Turkey and Greece. Arab states moved closer to Greece after Ankara pursued a pro-Arab Spring policy. The reduction in the US footprint and the EU’s hands-off approach to Greco-Turkish relations meant a rise in Turkish hegemonic tendency. Turkey certainly plays a bigger role in European affairs: Ukraine, the Black Sea, the West Asia, the Balkans and the South Caucasus, but Greco-Turkish tensions impact NATO’s unity. Greece is still the highest defence-spending NATO country. Turkey suffers from the empire syndrome. Like Pakistan in our case, it is a superpower’s use of Turkey for short-term gains that endowed it with greater confidence in the region. Greece, like India, faces no direct threat from the Islamic world. It is Turkey’s short-sighted policies that the Greeks are fighting against. Greece’s outreach to India assumes significance. Modi’s visit to Athens last year stirred intense strategic interest among Greece’s political and business leaders. And what set the tone was Mitsotakis’ statement that “India will find no better gateway to Europe than my country, and for Greece, there is no better gateway to Asia than a close strategic relationship with India.”

Greece controls the world’s biggest merchant shipping fleet, making it critical for India to strengthen the partnership to meet our impending need for connectivity and maritime collaboration in the Mediterranean and to make the Piraeus port a key hub in the IMEC, besides exploring investment prospects in cities like Athens and Thessaloniki. Despite the war in Gaza, the two countries have agreed to go ahead with the IMEC plans. Greek and Indian businesses are likely to find more reasons to partner with each other. The bilateral trade stands at a meagre $2 billion, but India aims to double it by 2030. Turkey and Pakistan share ideological angst against the ancient civilisations of India and Greece. Together, they collaborate to project the Turkish version of history in South Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Turkey has been raising the Kashmir issue on a global platform, and it recently supplied its Bayraktar combat drones to Pakistan. This makes it important for India and Greece to forge a strong alliance to support each other on Kashmir and Cyprus issues.

Athens has consistently supported New Delhi’s core foreign policy objectives. It was the first Western country to acknowledge India’s nuclear tests in May 1998; it condemned the Pulwama terrorist attack in 2019 and firmly stood up for India in the EU. It ardently supports India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The two countries have stepped up military cooperation, with the Indian Air Force joining the Hellenic Air Force in the INIOCHOS-23 air exercise. The Indian Navy’s INS Chennai was engaged in a passage exercise with Hellenic naval ship Nikiforos Fokas during a visit to Souda Bay, Crete, strengthening maritime collaboration.

India and Greece, along with Cyprus and Israel, have formed an ‘informal economic partnership’ for the drilling of oil in the Western Mediterranean.

Mitsotakis’ visit seemed to have entailed an amazing opportunity to address a spectrum of pressing global and regional security issues to boost ties in defence and security, especially cybersecurity, counter-terrorism and maritime security, and link co-production and co-development in defence manufacturing. India-Greek ties, built against the backdrop of their 2,500-year-old foundational Indic and Hellenic identities based on Greco-Buddhism, are likely to prove enduring.

#Narendra Modi


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