The Vice President of India, Shri Venkaiah Naidu visited the Baltic nations (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) from 17-22 August 2019. This was the first high-level visit by India to the region since the establishment of diplomatic relations in the early 1990s after the dissolution of the USSR. The paper analyses Vice President’s visit to the region highlighting the key issues of discussion and the impact of the visit on the relations between the countries.
Highlights of the Visit
Vice President Naidu’s visit to the region was important as it emphasised the strengthening the political, economic and people-to-people relations between India and the Baltic States. The visit also provided an opportunity to India to brief these countries on its decision of abrogating Article 370 and restructuring of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Vice President during his visit reiterated India’s stand that the issue was an internal matter which does not require any kind of mediation from a third party. In the multilateral arena, the Baltic States expressed their solidarity with India in its quest for comprehensive reforms of the UN and extended support to India’s claims for permanent membership of the UNSC.1 They also supported India’s call for the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
During his visit to Lithuania, the Vice President identified several areas for future cooperation between the two countries – like agro-food processing, pharmaceuticals etc. He noted that Lithuania’s advanced dairy and cheese production technologies could be another area of collaboration in India’s initiative of creating mega food parks. He invited Lithuanian technological expertise in solar storage systems and also to look at future potential transfer of technologies to Indian companies”.1 India signed two agreements on agriculture and allied sectors, and cultural exchange programme for 2019-21. India also extended e-visa facility to Lithuanian nationals.2
In Latvia, the Vice President and Latvian President Egils Levits agreed to strengthen cooperation in the fields of education and science, and among the higher education institutions. Indian and Latvian business delegations, led by ASSOCHAM and CII, and the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry signed an agreement to strengthen business cooperation and discussed plans to establish a Latvian-Indian Business Council. Latvian President Levits assured the Vice President of Latvia’s support to encourage closer cooperation between India and European Union (EU) by facilitating the economic and political partnership. The Vice President also sought Latvia’s support in combating climate change through India’s flagship programme the International Solar Alliance (ISA). In Latvia, the Vice President witnessed the signing of MoU on cultural exchange for 2019-21.3
In Estonia, while discussing the opportunities for Estonian companies in India, the Vice President invited the Estonian businesses to consider India as their manufacturing base, not only for the Indian market, but as their gateway to larger Asian market.4 He invited Estonian companies to “take advantage of India’s flagship programmes like - Make in India, Digital India, etc....” to encourage technological partnerships in IT, cyber security and related domains. He also appreciated Estonia’s initiative of e-residency under which Indians can become e-residents of Estonia, adding that this would also help the “Indian companies and entrepreneurs to use Estonia as a launch-pad for entering into Baltic, Nordic and larger European markets”.5 The Vice President invited the Estonian government to participate in the upcoming India-Europe29 Business Forum2 to be held in New Delhi in November 2019 and also invited the country to join ISA.6 With Estonia, India signed three MoUs in the fields of e-governance, emerging digital technologies, and for enhanced cooperation in cyber security between India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT and the Estonian Information System Authority.7 Other MoUs were on the exemption of diplomatic passports from visa requirement and a Memorandum on e-governance with the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.
The visit also focussed on the Indian diaspora in the Baltic nations. The Vice President addressed the diaspora in each of the country urging them to play a more active role to enhance the relations between India and the respective country. Stating that the mantra of the New India was “Reform, Perform and Transform”8, he said that the Indian diaspora can act as the bridge to integrate culture of India with that of the Baltic nations.”9
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview to a news channel defined his government’s foreign policy as -“…We also need to understand that we shouldn't consider smaller countries insignificant…The small countries of the world are as important as the big nations”.10 India’s outreach towards the Baltic nations (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) seems to be following these changing dynamics of its foreign policy. The Baltic countries are not only rapidly growing economies but are also technologically advanced. They are trying to create their own distinctive identity, beyond EU and NATO, which is based on their strengths in economic, scientific, technological and digital governance domains. The visit has laid the groundwork for enhanced cooperation between India and the Baltic region by providing an opportunity to examine the future areas for cooperation. These countries look towards India as an unsaturated market and India looks towards this region for advanced technologies and e-governance.
The visit of Vice President Naidu has provided momentum for taking bilateral relations forward beyond the EU. To do so, India needs to take several initiatives – first, India needs to expand its presence in the region by opening its diplomatic missions. All the three Baltic nations have embassies in India, while India’s relations are conducted through its missions in Warsaw (Lithuania), Stockholm (Latvia) and Helsinki (Estonia) which has led to a disjointed Indian approach towards the region.
Second, Baltic States are at the forefront of developing niche technologies, digital innovation and governance, areas where India is trying to gain a foothold. Estonia, for example, is one of the leading digital states of the world and has helped in setting European standards for data privacy and cyber-security. As India tries to take its own initiatives to regulate the cyber-space, it would benefit the country to enhance its dialogue and learn the best practices in this field.
Third, India and Baltic states can jointly explore the historical connect and common linguistic roots between them by enhancing the people to people relations. Many Lithuanian believe that their language traces its roots in Sanskrit.11 Moreover, the study of Indian languages (mainly Hindi and Sanskrit), Ayurveda, ISKCON movement, yoga etc. are famous in the region. Establishment of ICCR chairs on Indian Studies in Mykolas Romeris University and Vilnius University in Lithuania; Centre of Indian Studies and Culture at the University of Latvia; Centre for Baltic Culture and Studies, first in South and South East Asia, at Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya in Haridwar12, are some of the steps taken to invigorate the cultural connect between India and the region. Deepening people-to-people ties, along with fostering cultural exchanges and academic cooperation, will create a stronger and more stable foundation for Indo-Baltic ties.
The shared commitment to democracy, rule of law, and the promotion of peace and stability reinforces the convergence of Indian and Baltic strategic interests. To build upon this convergence, both sides need to establish closer dialogue on strategic issues and deepen their relationship across the political, cultural, and economic levels. By exploring the potential in several new areas of cooperation India can develop strong relations with these Baltic countries on bilateral bases as each of them have unique characteristics which could further contribute to the relationship.
* The Authoress, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.
1Lithuania backs India’s bid for the permanent membership in an expanded and reformed UNSC. (Press Statement by Vice President during his visit to Lithuania, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 17 August 2019, https://mea.gov.in/outoging-visit-detail.htm?31735/Press+Statement+by+Vice+President+during+his+Visit+to+Lithuania+August+17+2019); Vice President expressed gratitude to Latvia for endorsing India’s claim for the permanent membership of the UNSC (India will not allow outside interference in its internal affairs: Vice President, Yahoo news, 21 August 2019, https://in.news.yahoo.com/india-not-allow-outside-interference-internal-affairs-vice-111110451.html, Accessed on 28 August 2019); Prime Minister of Estonia pledged to support India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) (Vice President decries attempts to internationalize restructuring of Jammu and Kashmir state, Press Information Bureau, 21 August 2019, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=192759)
2India-Europe29 Business Forum is focused on strengthening cooperation between India and 29 European nations. They are- Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey
1Press Release, Press Information Bureau, 19 August 2019, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1582368, Accessed on 26 August 2019
2Press Statement by Vice President during his visit to Lithuania, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 17 August 2019, https://mea.gov.in/outoging-visit-detail.htm?31735/Press+Statement+by+Vice+President+during+his+Visit+to+Lithuania+August+17+2019, Accessed on 26 August 2019
3Press Relations, Press Information Bureau, 20 August 2019, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1582474, Accessed on 28 August 2019
4Press Statement by Vice President during his Official Visit to Tallinn, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 21 August 2019, https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/31748/Press_Statement_by_Vice_President_during_his_official_visit_to_Tallinn_August_21_2019, Accessed on 6 September 2019
5Vice President decries attempts to internationalize restructuring of Jammu and Kashmir state, Press Information Bureau, 21 August 2019, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=192759, Accessed on 6 September 2019
7First high-level official visit from India brings vice president to Tallinn, err.ee, 16 August 2019, https://news.err.ee/971410/first-high-level-official-visit-from-india-brings-vice-president-to-tallinn, Accessed on 5 September 2019
8Vice President asks Indian community in Lithuania to strengthen economic and cultural ties between the two nations, Press Information Bureau, 19 August 2019, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=192698, Accessed on 27 August 2019
9Naidu bats for India-Latvia partnership, Sify, 20 August 2019, https://www.sify.com/news/naidu-bats-for-india-latvia-partnership-news-international-tiueHLdgjeidb.htm, Accessed on 5 September 2019
10 Development is my conviction, it's my commitment: PM NarendraModi,27 June 2016, https://www.narendramodi.in/pm-modi-s-exclusive-interview-with-times-now-full-transcript-arnab-goswami-497175, Accessed on 9 September 2019
11The worldwide web of the Indo-European language family, Livemint, 25 March 2018, https://www.livemint.com/Sundayapp/qfGCnRp9kuJrEVEVOmJLiL/The-worldwide-web-of-the-IndoEuropean-language-family.html, Accessed on 23 September 2019
12Centre for Baltic Culture and Studies opens in Haridwar, first of its kind in South & South East Asia, Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania, 8 August 2016, https://in.mfa.lt/in/en/news/centre-for-baltic-culture-and-studies-opens-in-haridwar-first-of-its-kind-in-southsouth-east-asia, Accessed on 23 September 2019