India’s Modi, France’s Macron agree on defense ties, show bond but differ on Ukraine

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India is close to buying new French warplanes and submarines and played a starring role in France’s Bastille Day celebrations Friday. But for all the camaraderie on display this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron, their two countries remain sometimes-awkward allies.

Macron skirted around concerns about threats to rights and freedoms under Modi’s government.

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Modi called for peace efforts in Ukraine to end Russia’s war and resulting grain shortages, and India has increased imports of sanctioned Russian oil; Macron’s France is boosting weapons supplies to Ukraine for its counteroffensive.

During a two-day visit that included a banquet at the Louvre, Indian troops marching down the Champs-Elysees and a high-octane speech by Modi to Indians from around Europe, the two countries released a raft of agreements tightening cooperation in areas where they agree.

The biggest step is a preliminary Indian accord to buy 26 more Rafale fighter jets and three more Scorpene French- and Spanish-made submarines, on top of a prior deal for 36 Rafales and six Scorpenes. Price details still need to be worked out.

“Cooperation in defense is the basic pillar of our relationship,” Modi said ahead of meetings with Macron. “Be it a submarine or a navy ship, we want to work jointly not only for ourselves but other friendly nations too.”

Macron is keen on tightening alliances in the Indo-Pacific against an increasingly assertive China, and his office unveiled a “roadmap” with India for cooperation in the region.

“This convergence stretches to our strategic interests,” he said. ‘‘We are defending together the same vision of the Indo-Pacific, an area that must remain open and free from all forms of hegemony.”

Modi said India also wants to increase cooperation with France in space, after India launched a spacecraft toward the far side of the moon Friday.

France houses the European Space Agency’s main launch site, in French Guiana.

The two leaders also announced new initiatives to cooperate on renewable energy, hydrogen projects, artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

A small clutch of activists held a rally in Paris against Modi’s visit on Thursday, accusing him of eroding Indian democracy and encouraging discrimination against religious minorities.

Modi, who governs the world’s largest population, has said that “democracy runs in our veins” and insisted that there is “absolutely no space for discrimination.”

Modi was welcomed by US President Biden last month, and has arrived in the United Arab Emirates.

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