India’s military ties with Russia will last for decades: Analyst

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Leaders’ Summit in Samarkand on September 16, 2022. “Today’s era is not an era of war and I have spoken to you on the phone about this ,” Modi told Putin in a televised meeting.

Alexander Demyanchuk | Afp | Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have publicly rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine, but the long-standing friendship between the two countries is not fading, analysts said.

“Today’s era is not an era of war and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Modi told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a televised meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, two weeks . since.

It marked a change in tone from the early days of the war, when India was seen as unwilling to criticize Russia, partly given its abstention from a UN vote censuring the country for the invasion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for his part, claimed that Russia and India were “friends”, a month after Ukraine was invaded.

But despite India’s apparent change in attitude over the war, India still needs Russia, analysts told CNBC.

Countering China

“India is in a unique position where it needs Russia in the short term to manage China,” said Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank.

Pant added that India needs the West in the long term to manage its relations with China, citing the latter as “the main strategic challenger for India.”

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China and India have been locked in a two-year border conflict in the Himalayas, although troops from both sides have recently begun withdrawing from the western side. But both still had thousands of troops stationed along the de facto border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The future of China-India relations will be difficult, said Raymond Vickery, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

At a regular news briefing at the Indian foreign ministry in August, the spokesman confirmed that India’s policies are “consistent” and “do not require repetition” when asked about Delhi’s approach to the “One China” policy.

“In addition, there’s a whole Belt and Road Initiative that’s really designed to give China control of the Indo-Pacific eventually,” Vickery said.

The BRI is China’s ambitious program to build physical and digital infrastructure to connect hundreds of countries from Asia to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Critics consider it Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy to expand his country’s global influence.

During the recent SCO meeting, India refrained from confirming support for China’s BRI.

Military supplies

Russia is a key military partner and leading arms supplier to India, analysts said.

“The majority of India’s conventional weapons come from Russia,” said Sameer Lalwani, a senior expert at the US Institute of Peace. “[This] meaning it is heavily dependent on Russia for force sustainment, including spare parts, maintenance and upgrades for years.

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According to data firm Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India was the largest importer of Russian arms from 2017 to 2021, and Russian equipment accounted for 46% of India’s arms imports.

While far from the 80% figure during the Cold War, it still reflects India’s “great dependence” on Russia, Pant said, especially given that tensions between India and China over the LAC are still “very active.”

“Russia remains India’s most important [military] partner,” he added.

India also increased its purchases of Russian oil after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and is benefiting from reduced prices.

The tapes will “last for decades”

India’s long-standing friendship with Russia is not going away — and that’s thanks to the country’s military dependence, according to Lalwani.

“Even as India seeks greater indigenization of its defense capabilities, without a stunning and financially exorbitant overhaul of its force structure, it will continue to depend on Russian weapons, ammunition and sub-components for decades,” Lalwani said.

He added that India’s export of cruise missiles to Southeast Asian states cannot function without Russian propulsion systems.

“Even if the military relationship between India and Russia is on the decline, it will still last for decades.”

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