Russia-India defence sales face looming sanctions - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 25 February 2022

Russia-India defence sales face looming sanctions

In 2019, SIPRI put Russia as India’s biggest arms supplier from 2014-18, accounting for 58 per cent of all India’s defence imports


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 26th Feb 22


With Russia facing increasing waves of economic and financial sanctions imposed by western democracies, countries such as India, which are dependent on Moscow for a large percentage of their defence equipment, are facing hard choices.


White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, describing President Joe Biden’s meeting with G7 leaders on Thursday, promised “devastating packages of sanctions” on Russia.


Amongst the measures announced by the White House are “Sweeping restrictions on Russia’s military to strike a blow to Putin’s military and strategic ambitions.”


“Exports of nearly all US items and items produced in foreign countries using certain US-origin software, technology or equipment will be restricted to targeted military end-users. These comprehensive restrictions apply to the Russian Ministry of Defence, including the Armed Forces of Russia, wherever located,” stated the White House on Friday.

“This includes Russia-wide denial of exports of sensitive technology, primarily targeting the Russian defence, aviation and maritime sectors to cut off Russia’s access to cutting-edge technology,” said the White House.


Defence business between Russia and India is booming, with contracts worth over $15 billion in the pipeline. In 2021, the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institution report put Russia as India’s biggest arms supplier from 2016-20, accounting for 49.4 per cent of all India’s defence imports.


The Indian Air Force (IAF) is the world’s biggest buyer of Russian air defence equipment, much of it controversial, such as the $5.43 billion contract for five S-400 Triumf air defence units. Washington has objected strenuously to this purchase, and New Delhi is vulnerable to US sanctions under a 2017 law called “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). 


This mandates sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian, Iranian and North Korean defence and intelligence entities. The US Congress has empowered American presidents to waive these sanctions, but Washington sources say waivers would be given only in exceptional cases.


Given the outrage in western capital cities over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, any waiver to India over the S-400 appears highly unlikely. US President Joe Biden, asked by a reporter on Thursday whether India – a “Major Defence Partner” of the US – was in-sync with Washington on Russia, responded less than fulsomely: “We were in consultation with India today. We haven’t resolved that completely.”


An even more complicated issue between India, Russia and Ukraine relates to a $3 billion contract between the three countries for the purchase of four Russian Krivak-III frigates by India. Of these, two are to be supplied fully built by Russia, while the other two frigates are to be built in Goa Shipyard.


However, these frigates are powered by Ukrainian Zorya gas turbines, which Kyiv has refused to supply Moscow after 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. With some difficulty, New Delhi negotiated an arrangement that requires India to buy the Zorya turbines from Ukraine and transport them to Yantar Shipyard, Russia, where they would be installed on the two Krivak-III frigates and then sailed to India. 


While this arrangement catered for all sensibilities, Ukraine is now highly unlikely to supply the Zorya turbines to Russia. India will have to find a way to make these warships operational.


India is also dependent upon Ukraine for the ongoing upgrade of its 100-plus Antonov-32 medium lift transport aircraft. While the aircraft’s primary manufacturer, Antonov, is located in the Ukraine, different parts of the aircraft come from various places in the former Soviet Union. With Moscow blocking those supplies, Antonov is having to manufacture its own components and systems needed for upgrading the AN-32.


Meanwhile, Ukraine’s sophisticated arms industry has also supplied about 320 high-quality T-80UD tanks to the Pakistan Army.


New Delhi will also have to find ways of pleasing Moscow, but Russia is setting a high bar. In New Delhi, Russia's Charge d'Affaires Roman Babushkin said that Moscow expects continued support from its “special and privileged strategic partner,” when the UN Security Council votes on Friday evening on the Ukraine crisis.

“We highly appreciate India's deep understanding of the current situation as well as the reasons that led to it. We expect India to support Russia at the UN Security Council," stated Babushkin.


Prime Minster Narendra Modi spoke on Thursday to Russian President Vladimir Putin and called for “the immediate cessation of violence” and dialogue from all sides. India has been hesitant, including at the UN Security Council, to condemn Russian aggression. 


However, the strategic nature of weapons purchases between India and Russia creates its own compulsions. In 2019, New Delhi signed a $3 billion contract with Moscow, leasing a Russian nuclear attack submarine (SSN) for ten years, starting 2025. Moscow understands and exercises the influence this generates.


Amongst other defence sales under way between India and Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a factory in 2019 that will manufacture at least 750,000 AK-203 Kalashnikov rifles for the Indian Army, worth another billion dollars. 


Meanwhile the IAF wants to buy and upgrade 21 MiG-29 fighters lying unused in Russia for about a billion dollars. The IAF has also mooted a new contract to build 18 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for over $800 million. And HAL and Russian Helicopters have tied up to build 200 Kamov 226T light helicopters in India, worth about $2 billion. Also in the pipeline is a contract for “very short range air defence systems” (VSHORADS), where a Russian vendor has bid lowest.


  1. This is a disaster that was waiting to happen. This shows lack planning by Indian politicians, military, diplomats and spy agencies. India deserves all the pain she gets. India wants to be a super power and taken seriously by the world. But, India can not even make a decent gun. We have air chief who wants imported fighters. No wonder we are barely able punch at our own weight. If PM has any self respect he would fire some of these idiots who are all in for the imported equipment.

  2. It is Russia that has given us cutting-edge military hardware and tech like the Brahmos missile,nuclear subs,Sukhois,etc. which the US/ West has never given us,only offering 40 yr. old aircraft that its allies are now discarding!
    We have however bought a lot of US systems in recent years,transport aircraft,helicopters,LRMP aircraft,etc.worth over $20 billion. Russia did not threaten us with sanctions,neither has it sold to Pak our mortal enemy lethal weaponry since it values our close ties enduring for decades.It is totally hypocritical of the US to threaten us with sanctions as they did in 1998 after our second nuclear tests.

    If the US indeed sanctions us,we should ban all US defence companies from operating in India. We can get We want from Russia,Israel,Europe,S.Korea,etc.what we need to import,what we are unable to design,develop and manufacture at home at reasonable cost. We should NEVER submit to US blackmail.

  3. This is what happens when one is so dependent on other countries for one's defense needs. After 75 years of independence, India cannot even make an assault rifle on its own but has to go around "begging" for technology. Atma Nirbhar is a hollow statement when the first inclination is to look overseas. It is about time India did what the Chinese have been doing since the 50's,... reverse engineering technology. For example, they should take the SU30MKI engine, which is an unreliable beast, take it apart and build it from the ground up with home-grown components which are likely to be of higher quality. And if Russia does not like it, too bad!

  4. India is not US's adversary. The arms purchases from Russia are to defend India's borders, if a misunderstanding of the magnitude between Russia and Ukraine, happens between India on one side, and Pakistan and China on the other. India is a friend of both the US and Russia, like Pakistan is called a major non-NATO ally by the United States, and India is a strategic partner of the US. Why doesn't NATO declare that they will not use their military against Russia unless Russia initiates military action against NATO? Sanctions against Russia isn't the answer, ending the war in Ukraine to everyone's satisfaction, is.


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