Russia reneging on major arms delivery commitments due to Ukraine war, says India

·5 min read
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo shaking hands prior to their talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pose for a photo shaking hands prior to their talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (AP)

Russia is reneging on its weapon delivery commitments to India as arms supplies have hit a roadblock due to the war in Ukraine, according to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The comments seem to be the first sign that India could recalibrate its dependency on Russia amid continuing border challenges it faces from its nuclear neighbours Pakistan and China.

The IAF told a committee of India’s lower house in parliament in a statement published on Tuesday that Russia had scheduled a “major delivery” this year, without specifying what this delivery was.

India is the world’s biggest buyer of Russian arms, accounting for around 20 per cent of Moscow’s current order book and since 2018, the Narendra Modi government has signed a range of deals with Russia to import its air-defence missile systems, warships and assault rifles.

That same year, a £4.4bn agreement was signed to procure five S-400 Triumf air defence system units. Three of these systems of the ongoing order have been delivered and two more are awaited.

India deployed its first S-400 air missile defence system near the Pakistan border while a second one was deployed along the Line of Actual Control, or the border it shares with China.

The statement said there was “a major project... where the deliveries have been stopped because of the war going on”.

The supply shortfall has forced the Indian military to slash its projected capital expenditure on modernisation for the financial year ending March 2024 by nearly a third compared to the last fiscal year “because of this Russia-Ukraine war”.

“They have given us in writing that they are not able to deliver it,” an IAF representative told the Standing Committee on Defence, without specifying details.

“That is why the major part of projection has been reduced,” the representative further said.

Analysts said this first acknowledgement of the issue poses serious questions for India-Russia ties in the future and might force one of Moscow’s closest partners to rethink them.

“As far as projection is concerned, our projection last year was INR 850,000m (£844m) and we finally got an allocation of INR 750,000m (£745m) which we consumed,” said the statement.

“This year, the projection itself has been less because of this Russia-Ukraine war as some of our deliveries are not taking place,” an IAF representative told the parliament.”

People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before a military parade in Volgograd in 2018 (Reuters)
People walk past Russian S-400 missile air defence systems before a military parade in Volgograd in 2018 (Reuters)

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Delhi told Reuters: “We don’t have information which may confirm the stated.”

The Indian military’s acknowledgement of Russia’s failure to deliver on its arms order is significant because of Delhi’s strong ties with Moscow dating back to the Cold War era.

It is one of the factors behind India’s neutral stance on Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Interestingly, the same statement by the IAF representative clearly mentions: “Both, Russia and Ukraine are delivering things to us”.

Delhi remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for its military equipment – a vital link given the continuing border tensions between India and an increasingly assertive China.

India has called for ceasefire and a resolution to the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy, despite pressure from Western countries to join the sanctions route against the Kremlin.

“What a strategic disaster for India to have sided with Russia a year ago,” said Bruno Maçães, a non-resident associate at Carnegie Europe.

This is the “first public acknowledgement of the issue” by India, Harsh V Pant, professor at Kings College London told The Independent, adding that there have been concerns for some time in Delhi.

“For India, it is a major challenge because of the heavy reliance that it has on Russia and it poses serious questions about India’s operational preparedness as there is a live border with China and how Russian and Chinese relations are growing,” he said.

He said there have been concerns over Russia’s actions amid the war and its closeness with China.

“If Russia is not able to live up to the image of being India’s biggest and most reliable defence partner, many in India will raise questions that what is this partnership for and public pressure on India’s response to it will increase as the issue which was behind closed doors is [now] out in open,” he said.

The IAF statement also comes amid Russia’s growing frustration over Ukraine’s weapons supplies from its allies as Mr Putin’s invasion drags on to the second year and Western sanctions have begun to show an affect on Russia’s economy.

Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank, said last month in its assessment that Ukraine has “significantly depleted Russian equipment and manpower reserves necessary to sustain a successful large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine”.

Mr Pant said Russia’s war is certainly having a impact on what Moscow is able to do for its partner and itself.

“It will force many of Russia’s defence partners to rethink their relationship with Moscow. India was doing it in terms of its diversification [of military equipment] in last decades but the process will get accelerated,” he said.

A new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank which studies conflict, weapon sales and disarmament, said India has been the world’s largest importer of weapons since 1993 and “tensions with Pakistan and China largely drive its demand for arms imports”.

“Russia was the largest supplier of arms to India in both 2013–17 and 2018–22, but its share of total Indian arms imports fell from 64 per cent to 45 per cent,” said the think tank’s latest report.

Russia remains India’s top weapon exporter even as purchases were cut.