By Manoj Joshi
India could become a collateral victim of the devastating Russian attack on Ukraine. Sanctions between the United States and the European Union (US-EU) can derail our ties with Russia. So far, India has remained neutral and abstained from voting against Russia in the United Nations (UN). But soon, there may be no room for maneuver and the sea could become rougher, even stormy. This could push the United States to impose sanctions through the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This action may have its own geopolitical fallout on the growing Indo-American alignment aimed at controlling China.
India’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is shaped by two factors. The first is the history of the relationship, and the second is our significant reliance on Russia for military equipment, spare parts and accessories, as well as strategic weapons such as missiles and submarines. nuclear-powered sailors. A 2021 study by researchers at the Stimson Center suggests that the share of major Russian systems in our military is 85%. Between 2000 and 2020, Russia accounted for 66.5% of India’s arms imports.
India’s current acquisitions include four more high-performance S-400 surface-to-air systems (SAMs), four Grigorovich frigates (two of which will be built in India), 21 MIG-29 fighters and a powered attack submarine nuclear Akula for lease. There is also an order for Kalashnikov 203 assault rifles – 20,000 on the shelf and over 500,000 made under license in India. At the planning stage, some missile acquisitions, including the man-portable anti-aircraft missile for the Indian Army.
Several projects are underway – licensing producing more T-90S tanks, Sukhoi 30 MKI fighters and upgrading the Brahmos missile to a hypersonic version. Note that accessories and components regularly imported from Russia are essential to maintain existing equipment and license production, although Indo-Russian nuclear-powered submarine projects are likely already sanctions-proof.
India’s geopolitical position in Eurasia has been remarkably stable, unlike the United States, China and Russia, which have shifted their alignments and preferences. We have had close ties with the former Soviet Union since the mid-1950s and held Russia to favor neutrality when it invaded Hungary in 1956, Afghanistan in 1980 and now Ukraine.
For its part, the former Soviet Union and now Russia have wholeheartedly supported India’s policy in South Asia. He supported the liberation of Goa in 1961, maintained a largely neutral stance in the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and played a key role in helping India win the Bangladesh War in 1971. He has, throughout , backed India over Kashmir, down to the effective cancellation in 2019 of Article 370, which split the state and downgraded it to union territory.
The Soviets arrived in the 1950s and 1960s with equipment such as MIG-21 fighters and Foxtrot submarines, the equivalent of which our former British mentor refused to give. The Soviet Union had no concept of market prices, and therefore, it all came at disposable prices under rupee-ruble exchange agreements with technology transfer. We could never have afforded the size of the army that we have had since the 1980s with western equipment. The Soviet systems, grumbled one critic, were a drug addiction that India could not break.
New Delhi sought to overcome dependency in the 1980s by buying from the West and also tried to design its own systems. Imports often became embroiled in corruption, and domestic programs, such as the Tejas fighter and Arjun tank, proved disappointing. India has not been able to deploy an aerial drone of any significance, even though we have been working on it since the 1990s.
After Russia’s exit from the Soviet Union, arms purchases began to be denominated in dollars, but there were still bargains available such as the licensed manufacture of the formidable Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter and tanks T-90s which give India an advantage against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today.
Can we break up with the Russians? Over the past two decades, India has increased its arms purchases from countries like France, Israel and the United States. Even if India were to stop all Russian purchases today, it would be decades before that showed up. Indeed, systems such as tanks, fighter jets and ships, as well as artillery are regularly upgraded and often remain in service for decades.
The Russian arms industry is now in the crosshairs of the Americans, and New Delhi and Moscow will have to find creative solutions to maintain the relationship. An obvious decision would be to return to the old rupee-ruble trade.
A major problem for India is the lack of adequate general industrial capacity that can fuel the national defense industry. Indian defense manufacturing may be about to take off. Whether it can fly remains to be seen. As my colleague, Kartik Bommakanti, has pointed out, government investment in defense research and development (R&D) is “not only worrying, but ridiculously low”. What can be achieved through effective policy and investment can be seen in South Korea, which since the 1990s has developed its own tanks and submarines, is working on a fifth-generation fighter and is one of the largest arms exporters in the world. . India has a long way to go.
This article originally appeared in Hindustan Times.