• Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has prompted India to hold its nose and abstain.
  • Tanks manufactured by Russia are used by India’s military.
  • New Delhi is also planning to purchase the Igla air defence system.
  • This may force India into less preferred barter deals.
  • None of India’s Quad partners can match Russia’s diplomatic clout with its northern neighbour.

Russian Defence Equipment

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has prompted India to hold its nose and abstain on five separate occasions. Despite this, analysts believe that the South Asian country’s desire to ensure its supply of defence equipment, most of which comes from Russia, was the driving force for these abstentions.

According to former Indian army commander Deependra Singh Hooda, the country’s dependence on the Russian military and strategic weapons is “massive”. Speaking about Russian equipment, “I mean, 60% to 70% of everything,” he listed the military’s armour and air defence systems, the navy’s aircraft carriers and frigates, as well as the air force and air defence fighters. According to him, “who else will lease a nuclear sub to you?”

Amid the border stand-off with China, the defence minister visits India’s old strategic ally to secure defence agreement.

Russian Weapons in Indian Use

Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MKI, MiG-29, and MiG-21 fighters, together with IL-76 and Antonov An-32 transport, Mi-35 and Mi-17V5 helos, and the newly purchased S-400 air defence system, are all in service with the Indian Air Force.

Tanks manufactured by Russia are used by India’s military. MiG-29K fighters are used by the Indian Navy’s INS Vikramaditya, which was once the Russian Admiral Gorshkov. IL-38 maritime surveillance aircraft and Kamov Ka-31 helicopters are also used by the navy. For the time being, Russia is leasing a nuclear submarine to India, and they are also assisting India in the construction of their nuclear submarines.

New Delhi is also planning to purchase the Igla air defence system as well as 200 utility helicopters from Russia. Two of these ships would be constructed in the Indian coastal state of Goa.

Despite India’s efforts over the last several years to diversify its sources of military material, this reliance cannot be simply or rapidly replaced. Lieutenant General Hooda told Al Jazeera that he couldn’t replace 60 to 70 percent of the military’s equipment all at once.

After China and Turkey, Russia Begins Supplying S-400 Air Defence Systems to India.

Revert Back to Barter System?

However, due to the avalanche of sanctions imposed on Russia, managing this reliance on Russian technology should grow increasingly challenging.

According to Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Special Centre for National Security Studies associate professor Laxman Behera, an expert on India’s defence acquisitions, the country will have difficulty paying for its Russian equipment and will have to find an “alternate mechanism” to make those payments.

As Behera points out, India has previously made rupee-rouble payments in similar circumstances. However, if the exchange rate is not “acceptable to both,” Behera says, the cumulative effect of sanctions on Russian banks, their removal from the SWIFT system, and “the continual fall of the rouble” may force India into less preferred barter deals. As an example of a possible transaction, he says, “We purchase their equipment and we offer them agricultural goods.”

The Russian Hegemony

Despite the lack of “specific asks” of India from the United States and its allies on India’s defence cooperation with Russia, “When those asks come, there will be a focus on the nitty-gritty of the India-Russia defence relationship,” says Happymon Jacob, founder of the New Delhi-based Council for Strategic and Defense Research and a professor at JNU.

The day will come, I believe, when India will have to make some difficult choices, such as reviewing all of its agreements with Russia to see which ones may be reduced.

Can Quad Replace Russian Clout?

However, there is a second, equally significant reason for this. None of India’s Quad partners can match Russia’s diplomatic clout with its northern neighbour. In Moscow, India and China conducted their first discussions since their forces clashed in the border region of Galwan in June 2020. Russia has a greater influence on China than the United States, Lt. Gen Hooda claimed.

From left: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in July 2018 in South Africa.

Twenty Indian soldiers and an undetermined number of Chinese PLA men were killed in the ensuing brawl. Another reason why India can’t allow Russia to entirely align itself with China is because of the ongoing tensions between the two nations, adds Lt. Gen Hooda. “Expecting India to suddenly reverse its approach is likewise ridiculous,” he adds to India’s stance.

Pro-Russian leanings in India

As a result, India has been regarded as having a pro-Russian bias, which it has attempted to counter with explanatory remarks demanding respect for sovereignty, an end to the bloodshed and a resumption of negotiations.

“Disapproval” against Russia has been “harsher” in subsequent messages, according to Jacob.

“Extreme unhappiness” was expressed by one member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during a hearing last week over India’s abstentions from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to Jacob, “Indians will be asked to pick” if the crisis drags on. He claims that India’s existing “comfort zone” would “no longer exist” and that the country will be “nudged to start adopting harder stances” against “Russian aggression.”.

India and China stay on sidelines as Russia invades Ukraine.

Experts, on the other hand, believe that New Delhi may benefit from its new policy.

As long as the crisis continues, India is one of the few nations that can communicate to both sides. As Lt. Gen. Hooda points out, “If there is a willingness [for mediation] on both sides at some moment, then I believe that, yes, India might play a role,” he adds, “India’s relationship with Russia is accepted.”

Jacob is in complete agreement. As he puts it: “India is seen as an honest broker both by the Russians as well as by the Ukrainians and the Americans, thus India is ideally situated to perform the role of mediator.”


India might use its apparent inactivity to its advantage by offering its assistance in bringing the two parties to the discussion table.

If things go wrong in New Delhi, Jacob dismisses concerns about being blamed as “very risk-averse.” As for Indian counterarguments that such engagement by New Delhi may open the door to requests for mediation on the Kashmir problem, he denies such allegations, citing India’s longstanding position against third-party mediation with Pakistan.

“No. India does not want third-party mediation in the Kashmir issue,” therefore it’s like chalk and cheese. While India may arbitrate between Russia and Ukraine, it would only do so if both countries wanted it to do so. As a result, he maintains, it would be by invitation only.

It’s more significant than all of that, according to Jacob, because New Delhi may use its position as a mediator to justify its decision to abstain. Because “a mediator needs to be unbiased,” Jacob tells the audience that he is “doing my best” to be neutral in this situation.

To begin discussions, send a specialised envoy to these capitals, and then refrain from any further action, all you have to do is start the process. Sitting back and hoping everything works out is not a sound policy for national security, he argues. “Hope is not a sound basis for a policy of national security.”

(Al-Jazeera, 2022)


Al-Jazeera. (2022, March 08). Al Jazeera Economy. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/: https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/3/8/russia-tilt-essential-to-indias-strategic

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