Defence Industry

India Pivots Away From Russian Arms, But Will Retain Strong Ties

Story Highlights
  • New Delhi will need Russian spare parts for almost twenty years to keep them in good shape and fix them when they break.
  • But there have been problems, like when the Indian Air Force said last year that Russia had broken its promise to deliver a major weapon that it did not name.

India wants to cut ties with its biggest arms dealer, Russia, because the war in Ukraine made it harder for Russia to supply weapons and parts. However, Indian sources say that India must be careful not to push Russia closer to China.

The country that buys the most weapons in the world is slowly moving toward the West as the US tries to strengthen ties in the Indo-Pacific region. The US wants to keep China in check by pulling South Asia off of its traditional reliance on Russia.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says that over the last 20 years, India has spent more than $60 billion on weapons. Of that amount, 65% came from Russia. However, the war in Ukraine pushed India to buy weapons from other countries.

“We are not likely to sign any major military deal with Russia,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, an expert on Russia who works at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “That would be a red line for Washington.”

Even though four Indian government sources, one of whom was a top security official who just retired, said that Moscow had made offers that included platforms like the most advanced Kamov helicopters and Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets, with the added bonus of jointly manufacturing them in India.

Each of the four people spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about a private matter.

India and Russia’s foreign and defense ministries did not answer when asked for a statement.

Russia has openly asked India to strengthen its defense ties with Russia, but experts and government officials say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now focused on making things in India using technology from the West.

These kinds of actions would fit better with Modi’s “Make in India” plan to boost manufacturing in the country, as he makes a rare run for a third term in the May polls.

The defense minister of India said that the country plans to spend about $100 billion on orders for defense over the next ten years.

India and the US made a deal last year so that General Electric could make engines in India to power its fighter jets. This was the first time the US gave an advantage to a country that was not a friend.

At the time, they also said they wanted to “speed up” technology cooperation and co-production in areas like intelligence and air warfare.

India’s relationship with the US is also fueled by worry about China. Since 2020, Chinese troops have been stuck in a standoff on their Himalayan border, where 24 soldiers were killed in one of the deadliest battles in 50 years.

The neighbors with nuclear weapons went to war in 1962, but the line between them, which is more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) long, is still being fought over.


When it comes to its relationship with Russia, India has to walk a fine line because it buys a lot of its oil and most of its weapons. If this kind of trade stopped, Moscow would get closer to Beijing, which is the only other big country it trades with.

“Buying weapons gives you power,” the retired security agent said. “By shutting them out you make them subservient to China.”

Being able to trade with Russia in energy and other areas would help “keep it as far away from China as possible,” the expert said.

Officials say that Russia’s arms exports have mostly stabilized since the early problems caused by the Ukraine war, which made people worry about India’s military readiness. However, those worries have not gone away completely.

“As the war in Ukraine drags on, it makes us wonder if Russia will be able to give us spare parts,” said Swasti Rao, an expert on Eurasia at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, which is run by the government. “It is fuelling the diversification.”

According to the sources, India wants to use French jet engines on its newest aircraft carrier and make subs with French, German, or Spanish technology. It also wants to use American and French engines on its fighter jets.

“India’s multi-alignment will continue, to straddle ties with Russia and balance it with the West, but it will not be an equal distribution,” said Rao.


Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, made the latest push for more defense deals with India on December 27 at a press meeting with S. Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, who was in Moscow on business.

Lavrov said that he and Jaishankar talked about possible military and technical cooperation, such as making weapons together. He also said that Russia was ready to back India’s goal of making more things in its own country.

Jaishankar replied that ties were very strong and two-way trade was at an all-time high, thanks to deals in energy, fertilizer, and coal used to make steel. He did not, however, say anything about defense.

In 2015, the two countries agreed to work together to build 200 Kamov Ka-226T helicopters in India. The deal has not been moved forward.

India instead began using battle helicopters made by the government-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. in 2022.

More than 60% of India’s military equipment is weapons, such as tanks made in the Soviet Union or Russia, an aircraft carrier, and surface-to-air missile groups.

New Delhi will need Russian spare parts for almost twenty years to keep them in good shape and fix them when they break.

They work together to make the BrahMos cruise missile, and they want to make AK-203 guns in India.

But there have been problems, like when the Indian Air Force said last year that Russia had broken its promise to deliver a major weapon that it did not name.

Also, two Indian military sources said that Russia has been late for more than a year sending parts of an air defense system that India bought in 2018 for $5.5 billion.

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