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By Krishna N. Das and Jan Strupczewski
NEW DELHI/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union (EU) and India agreed on Monday to set up a trade and technology council to step up cooperation, as the bloc's chief held talks with officials in New Delhi who have seen a flurry of top visits since the start of the Ukraine war.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is on a two-day trip to India's capital, part of Western efforts to encourage New Delhi to reduce ties to Russia, its main weapons supplier, following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
India has refrained from explicitly condemning Russia's invasion, while calling for an immediate end to violence. Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation".
The United States is the only other country that has a technical agreement with the EU similar to the one signed on Monday with India.
"I think this relationship today is more important than ever," von der Leyen said in her opening remarks during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "We have a lot in common but we are also facing a challenging political landscape."
She identified cooperation on security, climate change and trade as the main areas of focus.
"Both sides agreed that rapid changes in the geopolitical environment highlight the need for joint in-depth strategic engagement," an EU-India joint statement said.
"The Trade and Technology Council will provide the political steer and the necessary structure to operationalise political decisions, coordinate technical work, and report to the political level to ensure implementation and follow-up in areas that are important for the sustainable progress of European and Indian economies."
Von der Leyen's visit comes days after British Prime Minister Boris met his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, and agreed to increase bilateral defence and business cooperation. Johnson was preceded by U.S. officials and the foreign ministers of Russia and China.
The EU chief was expected to offer to increase sales of European military equipment to India and relaunch talks on a free trade deal, a senior EU official said before the talks began.
"They reviewed progress in the vibrant India-EU strategic partnership & agreed to deepen cooperation in areas of trade, climate, digital technology and people-to-people ties," Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said on Twitter.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said after meeting Von der Leyen that they "exchanged views on the economic and political implications of the Ukraine conflict".
Like many European countries, India has continued to buy oil from Russia despite sanctions imposed on Moscow from the United States and other developed countries.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Alex Richardson)