New Delhi: Coming on the heels of the first anniversary of the Ukraine war, the conflict loomed large during the state visit of German chancellor Olaf Scholz, with Germany calling for all nations to pronounce their positions “very clearly” at the United Nations after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The German leader began his two-day state visit to India with a welcome reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan and formal delegation-level talks at Hyderabad House. He will be travelling to Bengaluru on Sunday.
Even before Scholz stepped onto Indian soil, German officials had underlined that Ukraine would be at the top of the agenda, with his visit taking place just a day after the important anniversary of the start of the Ukraine war that has embroiled Europe.
Standing next to Modi at a press appearance, Scholz said that the Ukraine war has been a “major catastrophe”, destroying cities, railway lines, and power grids and causing immense losses. He acknowledged that the Ukraine war had led to greater hardship in the global south, which will be one of the “priority” issues to mitigate.
He asserted that the Ukraine war violated a fundamental principle of international law that violence cannot be used to change borders. “Thus, it is important that in the United Nations, too, we time and again state very clearly where we stand on this subject matter,” said Scholz on Saturday afternoon.
His remarks were notable as they came less than two days after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against the Ukraine war with a call for “lasting peace”. India abstained on the latest resolution drafted by Ukraine and its supporters, just as it had on all previous such resolutions in General Assembly in the last year.
New Delhi has conspicuously refused to criticise Russia for its military actions in Ukraine in public. India has also sharply increased its intake of Russian crude, while Germany, Europe’s largest gas consumer, has managed to partially wean itself from its dependence on gas from Russia, partly helped by an unusually warm winter.
The reportage in the German media also noted that while Germany and India have differences over Ukraine, there is no expectation that New Delhi will change its mind following the visit by the German chancellor.
No joint statement was issued during the state visit. Instead, the two countries released a common paper titled “India-Germany Vision to Enhance Cooperation in Innovation and Technology”, which focussed on scientific and economic collaboration.
According to India’s foreign secretary, Vinay Kwatra, the Ukraine issue “featured fairly extensively” in the discussions.
Asked by reporters whether Scholz’s call for a “clear stance” at the UN was a message for India, Kwatra demurred. “There was deep understanding and appreciation of each other’s perspective… on what is going on in Ukraine, how it has affected the global south and how the two countries strengthen the constituency of peace,” he said.
In his media statement, the Indian Prime Minister said that since the start of the “developments in Ukraine”, India has called for resolution through dialogue and diplomacy”. “India is ready to contribute to any peace process.”
While there was divergence on the political front, Germany, India’s largest trading partner in Europe, was keen to spotlight its interest in strengthening economic cooperation with the South Asian giant.
Scholz said that he would “personally” look into the negotiations for the free trade agreement between India and European Union so “that this matter does not take as long as it has already taken, but that rapid progress is possible here”.
With a total trade of $24.8 billion in 2021-22, Germany has also been among the top 10 trade partners. Germany also is the ninth largest foreign investor, with 1,800 companies active in India.
The German chancellor announced that the next meeting of the Asia Pacific Conference of German business would be held in India in 2024.
There was also a focus on cooperation on green hydrogen with a letter of intent signed between the Department of Science & Technology and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy System.
Besides, two other commercial agreements between private organisations were signed in the renewable energy sector.