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India - Russia Defence Ties

India - Russia Defence Ties

Context:

Defence Minister of India, who paid a visit to Moscow at the invitation of the Russian Ministry of Defence to attend the 75th Anniversary of Victory Day Parade, mentioned that the relations between India and Russia are one of ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’ and the ongoing military contracts between the two sides will be maintained and in a number of cases will be taken forward in a shorter time.

Background:

  • India has longstanding and wide-ranging cooperation with Russia in the field of defense. India-Russia military-technical cooperation has evolved to joint research, development, and production of advanced defence technologies and systems.
  • BrahMos Missile System, Joint development of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, and the Multi Transport Aircraft, as well as the licensed production in India of SU-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks, are examples of such flagship cooperation.
  • The two countries also hold exchanges and training exercises between their armed forces annually.

Summary of the Debate

Significance of the Visit

  • This was the first visit ever visit by any high-level Indian delegation to any foreign country during the COVID pandemic.
  • The visit was on a symbolically very important occasion. It was the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazism. The victory day celebrations have been held on 9th May but got postponed this year because of the COVID.
  • Numbers of the Western leaders are not going there because of their standoff with Russia, so the visit was also a declaration of its support for Russia and of its friendship with Russia. Indian military contingent also participated in the victory day parade.
  • The defense ministry got the opportunity of discussing a number of important ongoing contracts. Russia also ensured India that delivery of defense equipments will continue smoothly as planned and it will do its best to meet Indian demand.
    • All of this illustrated the special and privileged strategic partnership that India has with Russia and defense cooperation is a very important part of it.

India-Russia Relations

  • The basis of the India-Russia relationship is the very close convergence of their interests and a long history of trust. They do not have actually any area where their interests are going against each other.
  • Both countries have a harmonious relationship and for Russia, defense technology export to India do not bring the same level of accompanying problems as the defense technology export to some other countries.
  • India and Russia never had intellectual property thefts issue. Russia doesn’t have any security concerns while exporting defense or dual fight use technology to India and Russia sees it as a way to boost relations with an important power.
    • Both countries have a mutually trustful relationship and that’s what makes it work.
  • The strategic importance of Russia to India: India got its critical naval components and nuclear submarines from Russia.
    • India’s entire space program is helped by Russian. Even now Indian Astronauts are being trained by Russian for space missions.
    • Russia is the foreign partner for nuclear reactors in India with the first plant in Kudankulam. Russia agrees to build 10 nuclear reactors in India.

Is India-US closeness means India is drifting away from Russia?

  • Russia is a close neighbor with whom India never had any major differences. From a strategic perspective, India builds relations with other countries which are important (like with the US) but that should not mean drifting away from Russia.
    • In a strategic sense, India needs Russia in a number of areas like maintaining strategic autonomy in world affairs.
    • For maintaining the independence of actions one does not do so by drifting away from one power and to go another power. One has to actually manage relations with all powers.
  • There are so many elements of complimentary in India Russia bilateral relationships that one cannot go away from the other; defense cooperation is one of them.
    • As per the latest data of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in the last five years, the Indian import of arms from Russia is 58 percent.
  • Military partnerships between nations do not change easily. It’s a very deep relationship that takes a long time, long efforts, and money if even one wants to diversify it.
  • Russia is the hydrocarbon superpower of the world. If one has energy, defense and political relationships which dates back decades then it’s not a relationship that one can drift away from so easily and it’s not wise enough to drift away from it either.

Issues of High costs and Slow delivery of Equipment from Russia

  • It’s been said that the Russian weapon is highly expensive and when it comes to the maintenance the process is very slow.
    • The aircraft, tanks, battery of guns, and other equipment have issues of maintenance, repair, and spare problems.
  • The pricing mechanisms are based on commercial considerations. There is certain growth in price for more advanced pieces of weapons and then there is commercial logic.
  • Spare parts problem: There are traditional issues with spare parts suppliers and technical maintenance of the Russian produced system.
  • In recent years, the Russian government is taking special efforts to address these issues. Russian manufacturers are boosting their maintenance and spare parts supply capabilities, trying to create service centers overseas and change the situation.
  • At least now the problem is recognized by the Russian authorities and they are working on it very actively.

Russia China Closeness

  • Because of Western sanctions, there is a sense that Russia has been pushed closer towards China. US-China trade hostilities and the US’s relations with Russia also brought these giants closer.
  • But Russia is absolutely interested in maintaining the ability to conduct independent foreign policy.  It is not taking Chinese loans and basically Russian public debt is very low.
    • So, there is no ability of any country to influence Russian policy using the debt mechanism.
    • Russia is maintaining a Chinese presence in its economy at the level which is safe.
  • In a tough time like this, Russia needs to be very careful. Of course, Russia will always have very friendly and specials relations with China because they are neighbors and they should absolutely trust each other but it doesn’t mean their foreign policies are 100 percent aligned.

Way Forward

  • Both nations need more interactions at the military level. Russian manufactures should come to India to operate, which will be mutually benefitted to both the nations.
  • Defense ties between India and Russia are in a good place. It has been a historical, strong, and strategic relationship that is only going to go to the newer heights. There is a need to fine-tune it a little bit and there are some issues which will be hopefully addressed in the near future.

Main points made by Guests:

1. Dr. Vasily B. Kashin, Senior Research Fellow, National Research University, Russia :

  • The basis of the India-Russia relationship is the very close convergence of their interests and long history of trust. They do not have actually any area where their interests are going against each other.
  • Both countries have a harmonious relationship and for Russia, defense technology export to India does not bring the same level of accompanying problems as the defense technology export to some other countries.
  • There is no ability of any country to influence Russian policy using the debt mechanism.
  • Russia is maintaining a Chinese presence in its economy at the level which is safe.

2. P. S.  Raghavan, Former Ambassador:

  • The visit was on a symbolically very important occasion. It was the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazism. The victory day celebrations have been held on 9th May but got postponed this year because of the COVID.
  • The defense ministry got the opportunity of discussing a number of important ongoing contracts. Russia also ensured India that delivery of defense equipments will continue smoothly as planned and it will do its best to meet Indian demand.
  • In a strategic sense, India needs Russia in a number of areas like maintaining strategic autonomy in world affairs. If one has energy, defense, and political relationships which dates back decades then it’s not a relationship that one can drift away from so easily and it’s not wise enough to drift away from it either.

3. Maj. Gen. P. K. Chakravorty (Retd.), Defence Expert:

  • It’s been said that the Russian weapon is highly expensive and when it comes to the maintenance the process is very slow.
  • The aircraft, tanks, battery of guns, and other equipment have issues of maintenance, repair, and spare problems.

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