india news: India’s Russian arms explain “shaky” Ukraine stance

When 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a recent border conflict with China, the military hardware New Delhi sent to fortify its Himalayan border was mostly of Russian origin, which was the first time an “old and time-tested friend”. ” was not showing its proximity to Moscow.

These ties help to explain Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reluctance to criticize Vladimir Putin – a regular visitor – over the invasion of Ukraine, in the face of an increasingly assertive China closer to home.

India has avoided UN resolutions condemning Russia and continues to buy Russian oil and other goods despite pressure from Western countries.

US President Joe Biden this week called India “somewhat unstable” on Russia.

In the Cold War, officially non-aligned India leaned towards the Soviet Union – partly because of US support for arch-rival Pakistan – buying its first Russian MiG-21 fighter jets in 1962.

These military ties were strengthened by two watershed events: India’s humiliating defeat to China in the 1962 border war and the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

During the latter, the USSR sent ships to the Indian Ocean to prevent direct US intervention to help Pakistan. Some time back both had signed the historic Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.

And after a clash with China in 2020, Indian reinforcements to shore up the Himalayan border included Russian tanks and aircraft.

“Russia has always been free from external pressure and supplied what we needed, and has not slipped,” Nandan Unnikrishnan of the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation told AFP.

“The Ukraine war doesn’t change the situation in our neighbourhood, so why should we consider replacing our long-tested and trusted supplier without a practical replacement?” he said.

– Air, land and sea – When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, 70-85 percent of the Indian military’s hardware was Russian, and in recent years India has ordered more from elsewhere – notably France, the US and Israel – and have created more themselves.

But according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia remains not only India’s largest supplier of weapons, but New Delhi is also Moscow’s biggest customer in the region.

From 2017-21, India was the world’s largest importer of major arms, and 46 percent of them were Russian. India accounts for about 28 percent of Russia’s arms exports, and accounts for the lion’s share of the two countries’ total trade.

Of India’s estimated 3,500 battle tanks, nearly all are Russian-built or designed – manufactured in India on license – while most of its fighters are Sukhoi and MiG.

India’s only operational aircraft carrier is the refurbished Soviet-era Admiral Gorshkov, four of its 10 destroyers are of Russian origin, as well as eight of its 14 non-nuclear-powered submarines.

India also has large Russian orders pending including a $5 billion deal for S-400 air defense systems – the first deliveries began last year – four frigates and a nuclear-powered submarine.

“With this kind of dependence it is very difficult for India to take any other stance on Russia,” Manoj Joshi, a writer and former member of a government task force to reform national security, told AFP.

But he said buying equipment does not eliminate dependence. Sometimes after decades, it needs upgrades, maintenance, spares and other assistance from Russia.

India and Russia are also collaborating in defence, for example in building the BrahMos cruise missile, one of which India accidentally fired at Pakistan this month.

Experts say the Russian kit is also relatively inexpensive, and Western countries are much more reluctant than Moscow to transfer the technology to allow India to build weapons.

“The US sells everything with an end user condition and yet will not sell us a certain class of weapons, unlike Russia,” Joshi said.

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