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Following Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to India this February, both countries have been discussing strengthening their bilateral ties. This trip proceeded after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Athens in August 2023, where both governments agreed to upgrade their cooperation to a strategic partnership. Mitsotakis is the first head of state of Greece to visit India in 15 years, indicating the degree to which the bilateral relationship has strengthened this past year.

As Greece is commonly referred to as a “gateway” into Europe while India is the most robust economy of the South Asian region, collaboration between these nations can advance connections between the regions. Several economic and diplomatic incentives, such as the India-Middle East Economic Corridor (IMEC), can be used to strengthen their relationship and overcome challenges to effective cooperation.

As Greece is commonly referred to as a “gateway” into Europe while India is the most robust economy of the South Asian region, collaboration between these nations can advance connections between the regions.

IMEC: Shared Interests and Cooperation

A key aspect of the recent India-Greece bilateral meeting was the viability of IMEC, which was first launched by G20 members during their annual summit in New Delhi last year. The economic corridor intends to revolutionize trading routes from India to Europe, using the Middle East and Greece as central passageways. When G20 members first proposed IMEC, negotiations to normalize diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel were underway and were seen as crucial to the corridor’s viability, as the planned route would pass through both nations, using Israel’s Haifa port and Greece’s Piraeus port to make crucial connections into the Mediterranean.

Since the outbreak of war in the Middle East, many have considered this project to be “dead on arrival.” However, Modi and Mitsotakis’s revival of discussions in February 2024 is notable, given their roles as leaders of two crucial IMEC member nations. Both Greece and India claim to be certain that the project is still viable and have committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure it materializes.

One key shared motivation behind both countries’ persistence in ensuring the success of IMEC is the desire to establish an effective alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although Greece was the first EU member to join the BRI, there is currently a strong impetus within Greece to “untangle itself from Chinese overinvestments” due to its overreliance on China’s foreign direct investments (FDI) and the need to diversify its FDI sources. One way that India and Greece can help make IMEC successful and a worthy competitor to China’s BRI is to serve as a third-party mediator between Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is unlikely that mediation would lead to Saudi Arabia and Israel resuming normalization talks. However, such sensitive engagement could establish a foundation of mutual understanding between the two that could enable IMEC to move forward since the economic incentives that motivated these countries to sign the IMEC agreement last year are still present. 

Strengthening Other Areas of the Relationship

Although India and Greece need to achieve a consensus within IMEC to develop the transport routes linked to the agreement, they can still work to enhance their own trading relationship. Both governments have set this in motion by drafting a partnership agreement with the goal of doubling their bilateral trade from nearly USD $2 billion in 2022-2023 to USD $4 billion by 2030, even without IMEC in the picture. 

During bilateral talks, Modi also agreed to support Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean, a region with overlapping Greek and Turkish claims to territorial and maritime sovereignty. In 2020, Greece and Turkey put their fleets on high alert, and an accidental collision of two frigates pushed the two countries to the brink of conflict. Given the recent strained relations between India and Turkey, it seems logical that India should use this opportunity to step up its relations with Greece. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been vocal about his opposition to India’s abrogation of Article 370 and has also invested in defense cooperation with Pakistan. India cut its defense exports to Ankara in 2019, and Modi canceled his only planned state visit to Turkey that same year over Erdoğan’s Kashmir remarks

Another significant aspect of the India-Greece partnership relates to the UN Security Council. India has long claimed that the UN needs urgent reform to reflect the geopolitical realities of the contemporary world. In the bilateral talks conducted in February 2024, Greece agreed to join India in committing to reform the UNSC and promised to back India’s bid for a permanent seat on the council. This development is a moment of great symbolic importance, with Greece directly supporting India’s ascendancy to the global stage.

Finally, while there are several economic and geopolitical incentives to strengthen their relationship, the rich histories, cultural connections, and people-to-people ties between India and Greece also provide a crucial foundation for the bilateral relationship. Modi and Mitsotakis recognized this history during speeches in August 2023. Mitsotakis described the “ancient trade routes and the path of Alexander the Great” that forged some of the earliest connections between the two nations, while Modi discussed the importance of both Greek and Indian “ancient heritage.” Furthermore, in January 2024, artifacts from the time of the Indo-Greek King Appollodatus were discovered through excavations by researchers in Vadnagar, Modi’s birthplace. Appollodatus ruled during the time of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which included several small villages of Greeks that had settled in northwestern India and amalgamated into Indian culture, establishing a collective Indo-Greek identity. This recent archaeological discovery may present an ideal opportunity for India and Greece to delve further into their historical and cultural connections.

Mitsotakis has spoken about Greece’s relationship with India as “a partnership between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy,” highlighting a key historical and ideological connection between the two nations.

Conclusion

Many observers of the emerging India-Greek relationship speculate that the union is primarily strategic, working on a quid pro quo basis. However, Mitsotakis has spoken about Greece’s relationship with India as “a partnership between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy,” highlighting a key historical and ideological connection between the two nations. Next year will mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Greece. The countries’ leaders have announced plans to use the event to showcase the two nations’ common heritage and the more practical achievements of their diplomatic partnership. Reinforcing cultural connections alongside collaborative efforts on geopolitically beneficial projects, like IMEC or the potential new Free Trade Agreement between India and the EU, will be an essential synergy for establishing a more profound and enduring relationship between the two nations. 

Also Read: It’s Hard Not to be Pessimistic About IMEC

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Image 1: PM Modi with PM Mitsotakis via MEA on Flickr

Image 2: Piraeus Port, Greece via Jeffrey on Flickr

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