New Realities of the India-Russia Defence Partnership

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

BrahMos missile and launch canister on display at the International Maritime Defence Show, 2007, in Russia. The stealth supersonic cruise missile is a joint venture between India and Russia. Image by One half 3544. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A number of defense contracts are likely to be sealed when Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s visits India in November for annual summit talks with India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

India and Russia have a long history of defense cooperation, with Russia being India's leading partner. According to Russia Today, between 1960 and 2000, Russia supplied India with about $35 billion worth of military equipment. Over the years, the relationship has evolved [pdf] from a simple buyer-seller framework to one involving joint research and development, production and marketing of advanced defense technologies, including missiles, rockets, fighter and transport aircrafts.

However, changing political landscapes may be forcing the allies to realign their interests. While India makes positive strides in its defense relations with the United States, Russia is once again keen to expand its role and influence across South Asia. Moscow’s initiatives include the Dushanbe Group of Four – a proposed collaboration between Russia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sensing ambivalence in the US-Pakistan relationship, Moscow has also warmed to Pakistan, much to India's chagrin.

Commenting on the turn of events, Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, tweeted:

@Chellaney: New geopolitics, new equations: As India moves closer to the U.S., Russia and Pakistan explore a new relationship with high-profile visits.

Friends and Foes

President Putin was supposed to visit Pakistan at the beginning of October, but postponed his trip at the last minute. Russia later sought to quell India's concerns by insisting they would not sell arms to Pakistan. But eyebrows were raised when a meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) in New Delhi had to be rescheduled from October 4 to October 10 because the Russian Defense Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, apparently had to participate in an event organized by Putin. This happened to be at a time when Pakistan's Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was visiting Moscow. Around the same time, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also postponed his India visit and went to Islamabad instead.

Military blogger Prasun K. Sengupta elaborates on what he feels will be the nature of cooperation between Pakistan and Russia. He writes:

Interestingly, Moscow has signalled its readiness to warm up to Pakistan’s overtures with the proviso that Pakistan accommodates Russia’s concerns regarding the regional security scenario in Central Asia, given the fact that Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan/Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belt is separated from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s narrow Wakhan Corridor, and that this belt of Pakistan also borders the Kashgar prefecture of China’s troubled Xinjiang province. To this end, Russia is reported to be willing to extend a sizeable quantum of security assistance to Pakistan, which is likely to include up to 12 new-build Mi-171 helicopters (to be built by the Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant) and hundreds of RPO-A Shmel (Bumblebee) shoulder-launched thermobaric rockets, items which the Pakistan Army urgently requires for its upcoming counter-insurgency campaign in North Waziristan.

India is not only apprehensive about the Pakistan-Russia rapprochement but is also concerned about delays in Russia's delivery of certain defense hardware and technologies. For example, the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (now renamed the INS Vikramaditya) will not be ready for transfer before the end of 2013.

For their part, Russia is unhappy with India scaling up their defense relationship with the US and also for diversifying its sources for new defense equipment from nations such as the US, Israel, and France.

Some Russian experts have cited this as one of the reasons why Russia needs to look for additional markets, a sentiment shared by some of the country’s netizens:

@ForcesFocus: India's American-cozying is slowly distancing it away from its old friends. #Russia prefers meeting #Pakistan COAS (Chief of Army Staff) 2 Indian Defence Minister

Nevertheless, both India and Russia appear to be working towards the ‘rebalancing of relations‘ and moving ahead with more deals. Russia is still India's main supplier of defense equipment and will, according to forecasts, continue to be the number one importer of Russian arms, with purchase value increasing from $8.2 billion for the period 2008-2011 to $14.3 billion between 2012 and 2015.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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