by Paul Antonopoulos
Over two and half years ago, I penned an article urging the absolute necessity of enhancing India-Greece ties on the premise of shared security, economic and value interests. Although bilateral relations were undoubtedly underdeveloped when the article was published in January 2021, progress since then can only be described as a whirlwind, which has culminated with Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Athens on Friday, the first visit of an Indian Prime Minister since Shrimati Indira Gandhi forty years earlier.
Modi’s visit is multifaceted, and topics of discussion, and in some cases, the signing of deals, will revolve around trade, shipping, immigration, and defence cooperation. Greece can be India’s economic gateway to the European Union, has the second-largest shipping capacity after China, and needs temporary agricultural labourers – these will be important talking points between Modi and his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Still, none of these topics is more important than defence cooperation, the main focal point of recently expanded relations.
Pakistan and Turkey, allied with Azerbaijan and collectively comprise a hostile nexus, aim to annex Indian and Greek territory. Pakistan and Turkey can also disrupt New Delhi and Athens’s maritime strategy, challenging these two ancient seafaring civilisations. Greece is the greatest naval power in the Eastern Mediterranean and forces the Turkish Navy to hug the coastline of Asia Minor, whilst the Port of Piraeus serves as an entry into European markets. India is obviously interested in expanding its influence into the Mediterranean basin, something unwelcome by Ankara but which Greece can project into reality.
India and Greece signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2020, the basis for increased defence, trade, and energy cooperation. From the Greek side, the Hellenic General Staff of National Defence assumed a leading role in enacting the Strategic Partnership Agreement. Unsurprisingly, defence ties have accelerated faster than economic, academic, and cultural.
The highlight of expanded military ties thus far is the Indian Air Force’s participation at the end of May for the first time in the multinational Greece-hosted exercise “INIOCHOS 23” with Su30 aircraft. Indian pilots training with their Greek F-16 counterparts allows them to become familiar with combating the aircraft that is the backbone of the Pakistani air force.
At the same time, the College of Defence Management of the Indian Armed Forces, led by the School’s commander, Rear Admiral Sanjay Datt, visited Greece earlier this summer, with a series of exercises with Navy and Air Force units accompanying the visit.
Meanwhile, four Greek F-16s are also scheduled to participate in “Tarang Shakti”, India’s largest air exercise in September. The head of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, Konstantinos Floros, is also expected to visit India during the training.
The calibration and close cooperation of the Indian and Greek militaries is to counter the decades-long established Pakistan-Turkey nexus, which aims to expand Turkish and Pakistani territory at India and Greece’s expense, respectively. Turkey has consistently supported Pakistan’s claims over Jammu and Kashmir and engages in anti-India propaganda by internationalising the ‘Kashmir issue,’ a stark difference to Greece which views it as India’s internal matter.
Turkey emboldens Pakistan through shared illusions of reviving the long-gone Ottoman and Mughal Empires, and it is for this reason that Kashmir, Cyprus, and the Greek islands are in their sights, with Islamabad proudly boasting of its support for Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus.
Pakistan and Turkey’s unprovoked hostilities make India-Greece defence ties even more crucial, which is why Modi’s visit to Athens is anticipated with great expectation from the Greek side. Although Greece and Turkey became NATO members in 1952, and thus technically, they are allies, it has not been enough to alleviate Ankara’s expansionist goals, forcing Athens to seek alternative defence cooperation’s.
Under this context, Greece and the UAE confirmed a massive multilevel strategic cooperation in 2020, as did Greece and France in 2021. Greek government sources indicate that the current administration is also seeking a similar multilevel strategic cooperation with India. However, whether that will occur during Modi’s visit to Athens remains to be seen as the source remains tight-lipped.
What can be said with certainty is that Modi’s visit to Athens will boost India-Greece relations to unprecedented heights not reached yet in the modern era.