Saturday, Jun 25, 2022

Ukraine Crisis: India's Defence Dependence On Russia Complicates Calls For Realignment

Several nations are realigning their foreign policies vis-a-vis Russia, but up to 70 per cent of India's defence equipment is Russian. This complicates calls for such rebalancing.

Ukraine Crisis: India's Defence Dependence On Russia Complicates Calls For Realignment
PM Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin PIB

Several nations across the world are realigning their approach toward Russia in light of the country’s invasion of Ukraine – Germany has introduced changes in its defence policy which has been in place since World War 2 and Switzerland is deviating from its long-held neutrality to join the West in sanctioning Russia. Experts have suggested India to do the same.

The Observer Research Foundation’s Mihir Sharma has suggested India to develop new relationships. In an editorial, he wondered if India would benefit more from maintaining relations with Russia or the rest of Europe, especially when Russia has not much to offer other than arms.

The debate came to the fore after a 'disturbed' Indian refused to vote against Russia at the UNSC session last week, a decision which puts it at loggerheads with its QUAD allies United States, Japan and Australia. Calls for such realignments are, however, complicated by the fact that India is deeply dependent on Russia for defence requirements.

India is the second-largest defence importer in the world, amounting to 9.5 per cent of global imports during 2016-20, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Russia is the largest source for defence imports with a share of 49 per cent during 2016-20.

Overall, up to 70 per cent of Indian defence equipment is of Russian origin, according to estimates.

The share of Russian equipment with the Indian Army is a whopping 90 per cent, which includes main battle tanks, rifles, and infantry combat vehicles, according to a paper by the US-based think tank Stimson Center.

Russian-origin Sukhoi
Russian-origin Sukhoi AP Photo

Up to 70 per cent of the Indian Air Force’s fighter planes are of Russian-origin, which include Sukhois and MiGs.

The case of the Indian Navy is also similar – four out of ten guided-missile destroyers are Russian, six out of seventeen frigates are Russian, and eight out of fourteen other submarines are Russian. The only aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, is also of Russian origin.

This is despite recent diversification of Indian defence imports. During 2016-20, India was the top export destination for Israel (43 per cent) and France (21 per cent), according to the SIPRI fact-sheet on international arms trade.

The fact-sheet notes this and states, “The overall decrease in Russia’s arms exports between 2011–15 and 2016–20 was almost entirely attributable to a 53 per cent in its arms exports to India.”

However, the fact-sheet adds that Russian imports are again expected to increase in coming years. It states, “India placed new orders for a variety of Russian arms in 2019–20. The ensuing deliveries will probably lead to an increase in Russian arms exports in the coming five years.”

Recent defence deals with Russia include the S-400 missile system and the manufacturing of AK-203 rifles in a joint project.

With such dependence on Russian defence imports, a quick realignment for India is very complicated as the Indian government would not want new supplies and spares for repair and maintenance of existing equipment to be affected, particularly in light of the ongoing stand-off with China.

Major General (Retired) GG Dwivedi wrote in an article for India Today that delinking from Russia is not feasible and deft diplomacy is needed at the moment. He added, “Going in for alternate sources of procurement of critical weapons equipment is unthinkable in view of the current tense situation on the borders, with hostile neighbourhood.”