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EU's Von der Leyen tries to woo India away from Russia

April 25, 2022

The head of the European Commission is the latest Western figure to attempt to sway India away from Russia. She said the "no limits" partnership between China and Russia presented a threat to both India and Europe.

https://p.dw.com/p/4AQKj
Ursula von der Leyen seated with Narendra Modi
Von der Leyen is the latest Western leader to try and woo India away from RussiaImage: dpa/picture alliance

Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Monday called on India  to align itself closer with the European Union as New Delhi attempts to balance its ties with Moscow and the West. 

In a speech to the Raisina Dialogue, an annual conference held in Delhi, von der Leyen said a close relationship with the European Union was in the strategic interests of India

"As vibrant democracies, India and the European Union share fundamental values and common interests. Together, we believe in each country's right to determine its own destiny. Together, we believe in the rule of law and fundamental rights. And together, we believe that it is democracy that best delivers for citizens," she said.

"For the European Union, the partnership with this region is one of our most important relationships for the coming decade, and strengthening this partnership is a priority for the European Union. Our strategic cooperation should take place at the nexus of trade, trusted technology, and security, notably in respect of challenges posed by rival governance models."

She said India and the EU are "natural partners" who "thrive in a world of common rules and fair competition."

But von der Leyen warned that these values were threatened by Russia and China.

"The reality is that the core principles that underpin peace and security across the world are at stake," she said, going on to reference China and Russia's "no limits" partnership signed shortly before the invasion of Ukraine.

She said the war was affecting not just Europe, but also the Indo-Pacific, already visible through the rising cost of food and fertilizer.

The Commission chief said it was in the interests of the EU for the Indo-Pacific to remain open and become more prosperous. Therefore, she said, the EU was deepening its engagement with partners in the region, including ASEAN.

Von der Leyen criticized China's "debt-trap diplomacy," which critics say allows Beijing to take control of ports and vital infrastructure. Instead, she advocated for the the EU's Global Gateway program, which aims to invest €300 billion in partner countries.

She said India could particularly benefit from this fund in the realm of climate change and energy production, and digital technology.

Why is von der Leyen visiting India?

Von der Leyen is in India for a two-day visit, and has met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss trade, climate and digital technology. Her trip is part of a broader Western effort to encourage Delhi to downgrade ties with Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Most recently, Modi welcomed his British counterpart Boris Johnson, announcing a new defense and security partnership.

Modi has so far resisted condemning Russia's invasion, instead calling it "very worrying" and appealing to both sides for peace. India abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.

It has also resisted Western pressure to avoid buying oil from Russia, although it receives relatively little oil from Moscow. Delhi also buys a large number of Russian weapons, including recently purchased air defense systems.

During the Cold War, India was a Moscow ally, but has attempted to maintain ties with both Russia and Western nations.

Its relations with China have been frosty ever since a deadly 2020 border clash.

In a joint statement on Monday, India and the Commission "agreed that rapid changes in the geopolitical environment highlight the need for joint in-depth strategic engagement."

Why is India reluctant to criticize Russia?

aw/wmr (AP, AFP)