Renewing Friendships in a New World Order: India and Greece
By Debdoot Basu Ray
On March 24th, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited India. This was when a slew of nations visited India, with the Russo-Ukrainian conflict growing every day. Indian media were slow to bring out the news considering the number of high-profile visits from the US, UK, Germany, Russia, Nepal etc. However, one cannot blame the Russo-Ukrainian conflict for this, as India and Greece often find themselves on the second pages of the Indian tabloids. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek PM, and Modi have visited each other at least twice, and Dr Jaishankar’s visit to Athens was a landmark in Indo-Greek ties. The question perhaps thus arises, why Greece? Today, it is a shell of its former self and geopolitically located in Eurasia, where the most powerful nation is India’s historic and closest partner. Greece, much like Europe, sees Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as illegal and condemns them on multiple diplomatic and international platforms. It is also essential to bring to one’s notice that Greece did not come to discuss Russia, even though the threat is closer to the Hellenic Republic rather than it is to their West European partners.
Greece and India share a well established cultural past. Suppose one is to read Edward Pococke’s ‘India in Greece Or, Truth in Mythology’. In that case, he talks about the well established historical connection between nations and the uncanny similarity between Hellenism, Greece’s Pagan religion and Hinduism, India’s majoritarian religion. Apart from this, both countries in the Ancient Era were perhaps the most important civilisations of their period; from having large empires to leading the innovations in arts and sciences, India and Greece share a rich cultural history full of knowledge and myth. Today, however, it is much more different. Greece is perhaps dwarfed today as the nation it once was on all fronts ranging from political hegemony to economic development. The Greeks have suffered multiple internal crises and are slowly on the path to recovery. However, this is not the only issue that plagues the European nation. Turkey in the 21st Century has strived to show itself as a leading figure in Muslim and world politics. Erdogan, Turkey’s populist President, wishes to focus on ensuring Turkey shall continue to grow in relevance and help be a balancing actor between NATO and West Asia. This is not good news for Greece, which does not have the best relations with the Eurasian nation.
The Hellenic Republic and Turkey, the successors of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire, have found themselves sparring on multiple issues, the root of which is Istanbul (once Constantinopole). Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, find themselves on the opposite ends of various agreements and often undermine each other on the international forum. This includes blocking each other’s training with other NATO members, accusations of air space and naval violations, and fighting over human rights issues and refugee migrations. Both nations must look beyond the traditional NATO set-up to forward their diplomatic ambitions in the region, where they both struggle to establish some form of hegemonic precedence.
Greece, in this regard, has a slight advantage over their rivals. Erdogan’s Turkey has not been the most popular considering his animosity with the Arab nations, especially Saudi Arabia, which Turkey sees as a rival. However, Turkey boasts a strong military presence in the region, which concerns the Greeks. Recently, however, Turkey has been facing a lot of internal pressure as its economic slump has grown due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Erdogan, who is facing re-elections in 2023, has decided to approach the Arab nations in a more nuanced manner as he undertook a trip to West Asia earlier this year. Greece thus faces a diplomatic hurdle as to where it can find reliable allies and partners to ensure that they are well prepared for any potential Turkish threat. As the world focuses on Ukraine and Russia, Turkey and Greece find themselves at odds with each other with criticisms and allegations, making the tabloids every other day. This is especially worrying for NATO, which needs to project strong opposition to the renewed Russian threat in Eastern Europe.
With Turkey growing closer to China and Pakistan, it is definitely of concern for the decision-makers in New Delhi. Pakistan and China, two significant military powers and international actors supporting Turkey’s claims on Cyprus and other Greek islands, are a cause of great concern. Greece knows that the rising developments between Turkey and China, which is readying itself for a more prominent role on the international stage, Greece must find like-minded partners who are not afraid to oppose the Chinese mechanism. The obvious choice for Greece thus becomes India.
India has over the last few years, India has seen the growing vocal opposition of Turkey in its internal state of affairs, which mainly pertains to the treatment of Muslims in Indian administered Kashmir. India, a somewhat renewed foreign policy directive under Dr Jaishankar, has been looking for partners of strategic importance whom they wish to employ to apply pressure on China and its newfound axis of partners. Greece and Cyprus have been a significant part of that project. India’s support for Turkey’s regional rivals has only grown over the years, and New Delhi is not hesitant to flex its diplomatic muscle to ensure Ankara is kept in check. After a landmark meeting in 2022, India and Greece have led the two nations to converge on a single point of conflict in the international sphere and increased cooperation in trade, commerce, investments, agriculture, and flying, among others discussions. India is expanding its presence in Europe with key partners, including France, Germany and the UK. Newer nations and supporters emerge as friends of India’s missions abroad. Today, Greece and Denmark are the two growing partners for India in Europe, ensuring that India’s diplomatic presence is established amongst the factions in Western Europe and all of Europe as one single entity.
Greece needs to find itself aligned with India for various reasons. Turkey’s strategic and influential rise targets Greek hegemony in the region and poses a challenge to the already existing Saudi hegemony over the Islamic world. As of now, how things stand, the Arab world needs to choose partners wisely. Greece cannot rely on the complete support of the Saudis and the rest of its allies to counter Turkish aggression. This is also difficult because China stands as a friend of Erdogan’s nation. Greece must find support from the USA, which has in recent years challenged much of Erdogan’s policies and thus has kept Turkey from violating any laws or treaties they are bound to. However, even the US finds itself tied with matters they cannot control beyond their use of diplomatic channels. India is a nation which enjoys support from multiple spheres of the world’s global political setup. India’s strategic ties with both Russia and USA, Japan and ASEAN make them a dominating actor in these regions and one of the only counters to the Chinese mechanism, which sees itself proliferating. India’s diplomatic solid presence would deter Turkey from taking any actions against Greece even if they were to choose to do so. In 2021 India played a significant role in curbing Turkey from diplomatically and militarily interfering in Cyprus. India is an influential and respected global player, and Greece should find itself supporting and aligning with India’s interests as India too wishes to align with those that Greece has. A mutually benefiting relationship would help both nations grow economically and help act as deterrents to their regional rivals and threats. However, there is some time before those ambitions can be actualised. Turkey is still a NATO member, and there is little India can do in that aspect. Greece is also not a nation India would immediately look for economic or military support. Diplomatically both countries stand to gain a lot. How they shall materialise the same is yet to be seen.