Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister in forty years to pay an official visit to Greece on 25 August, in a bid to reboot an old relationship between the world’s two ancient civilizations.
Bilateral ties were elevated to strategic ones with pledges made to double bilateral trade by the year 2030 and boost the defence industries of both the countries, along with military-to-military ties.
"We decided that there should be an institutional platform for dialogue even at the level of our National Security Advisors,” Modi said at the joint press meet together with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Bonded by civilizational, cultural, and geo-political ties, the partnership between Delhi and Athens can be a formidable one.
Indo-Greece Strategic Partnership
Greece, strategically located on the Eastern Mediterranean, and with the third-best navy in the European Union, has pitched itself as a gateway to Europe.
The visit, the first for an Indian Prime Minister since 1983, is part of India’s larger Mediterranean strategy.
In January, Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi concluded a successful visit to Greece. In December last year, Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar concluded a successful visit to neighbouring Cyprus. And military and defence are at the heart of this strategy.
Almost a month ago, Indian Navy participated in naval exercises with the Greek Navy in Greece while in April both countries participated in the multinational aviation air force exercise.
According to Sanjay Verma, Secretary West in the Ministry of External Affairs, the purpose of the visit was to “strengthen security and defense cooperation, would be to increase the pace of exchanges at the military level, training personnel, invite Greek capacity into the Make in India programme, especially in our defense industry, and consider joint production, technology exchange…”
This dalliance with the Mediterranean region is, in part, India’s response to Turkish hostility, and, more recently, the emerging axis of Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan.
An agreement on agricultural cooperation was also signed following, and a migration and mobility pact is also on the anvil.
Kashmir: A Key Reason Behind India-Turkey Tensions
The PM had last met his Greek counterpart in 2019, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. That was also when egged on by Pakistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had raked up Kashmir following India’s rescinding of the state’s special status and its bifurcation.
Since then, Erdogan has brought up the Kashmir issue at every opportunity. Worse, Turkey was soon reported to be hosting Kashmiri dissidents and allowing anti-India activities on its soil.
Turkey has historically pursued close relations with Pakistan, which has been an impediment for closer ties with India. However, Erdogan’s newfound belligerence, replete with references to Kashmir as Turkey’s own Gallipoli experience, alarmed India and displeased the government which was quick to hit back.
Modi cancelled his planned trip to Ankara and India issued an official statement condemning Turkish military incursion into Northeast Syria. It also issued a travel advisory warning Indians against travelling there.
Since then, at every given opportunity, whether at the UN, or other forums like the SCO, Modi and his Minister Jaishankar have been regularly meeting with their counterparts from the three countries inimical to Turkey –Greece, Cyprus, and Armenia.
India's Stand On Cyprus
While Greece has been Turkey’s traditional rival, with disputed maritime boundaries, bilateral ties are also strained over the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus.
In a move that finds its parallel with Pakistan’s invasion of Kashmir in 1947, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and insisted on the country’s partition to carve out a separate Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Cyprus rejects this and Turkey is currently, the only country to recognise TRNC. It has been pushing for its recognition by fellow Turkic states.
Post the war in the South Caucasus between Armenia, whose relations with Turkey are also strained owing to absent mutual diplomatic ties, and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, ties have been deepening quickly between Ankara, Islamabad, and Baku.
Since Azerbaijan won the war after a 20-year defeat, thanks to Turkish and Pakistan military and moral support, all three are now upbeat about replicating this victory vis-à-vis Northern Cyprus and Kashmir.
While India has enjoyed cordial relations with both Greece and Cyprus, in the Mediterranean and with Armenia in the South Caucasus, new momentum has now been added.
What’s Next for Delhi-Athens?
In June 2021, Jaishankar visited Greece and in March last year, his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias visited India, with such exchanges coming after a gap of 18 years.
Both sides also pledged to deepen bilateral military cooperation. In December, Jaishankar concluded a successful visit to Cyprus. Ahead of the visit, Cyprus, which has always supported the Indian position on Kashmir, said that it would be discussing "Turkish provocations” with the Indian foreign minister.
Both sides signed three major MoUs, including in defence cooperation. While India has already begun arms supplies to Armenia, joint defence production with Greece is in the pipeline.
The joint statement issued during Modi’s visit to Athens states that both leaders shared a vision of "a free, open and rules-based Mediterranean Sea and Indo-Pacific, in accordance with the law of the sea, in particular the provisions of the UNCLOS, and with full respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation....” in a clear reference to Turkish obstruction and encroachments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Chinese violations in the South China Sea.
The statement also “...strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, whenever, wherever, and by whom-so-ever committed and the use of terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism…” which again was a clear reference to Turkish and Pakistani interferences in Northern Cyprus and Northeast Syria, and in India’s Jammu and Kashmir respectively.
In Nicosia last December, Jaishankar had said the Mediterranean region would see more of India in the future. The prime minister’s visit is proof of this.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)