Why Indo-Russian ties continue to remain strong, despite sanction threats from US?
India and Russia signed 28 deals, including the extension of a 10-year military-technical cooperation agreement that will see indigenous production of more than six lakh AK-203 Kalashnikov assault rifles amounting to over Rs 5,000 crore during President Vladimir Putin visits on 6 December to New Delhi
India and Russia signed 28 deals, including the extension of a 10-year military-technical cooperation agreement that will see indigenous production of more than six lakh AK-203 Kalashnikov assault rifles amounting to over Rs 5,000 crore during President Vladimir Putin visits on 6 December to New Delhi. Putin travelled to India with Russia's defence and foreign ministers that witnessed the two old partners reinforce their ties with a military and technical cooperation pact until 2031 and a pledge to boost annual trade to $30 billion by 2025.
A joint statement issued after the talks between Putin and Modi said both countries had reiterated their intention to strengthen defence cooperation, including the joint development of production of military equipment. In addition to the deal for India to produce AK-203 assault rifles, Russia said it was interested in continuing to provide S-400 air defence missile systems.
India is one of the major buyers of Russian weapons. According to the Russian Agency for Military and Technical Cooperation, the total amount of weapons ordered by India from Russia is approximately $15 billion and the total value of weapons ordered by India since 1990 is nearly $70 billion.
One of the most notable aspects of these deals was the announcement of abandoning the use of the US dollar in arms transactions. According to a report by Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Russia and India have waived the use of US dollars for mutual settlement when signing weapons contracts, and all payments are made in rubles and rupees.
Deepening defence ties with Russia
Following the 21st annual India-Russia summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said "despite the challenges posed by Covid, the pace of relations between India and Russia has not changed. Our Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership has been continuously strengthening". Russia and India held a '2+2' meeting between the Foreign Ministers and the Defense Ministers. Currently, India only has this dialogue mechanism with the three 'Quadruple Dialogue Mechanism' (QUAD) member states of the United States, Japan and Australia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the launch of the '2+2' talks between Russia and India will further strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries. The Indian Foreign Minister, S Jaishankar stated that the existing Russia-India relations that have developed under constantly changing geopolitical conditions play a special role. In his remarks, Jaishankar said ties between India and Russia have been 'close and time-tested' in a world that has changed considerably. "They (the ties) have been exceptionally steady," he said.
The agreement on the 2021-2030 military technology cooperation plan entails that the two countries' services and arms will cooperate, and the two countries will carry out the procurement and research and development of weapons and military equipment. Both countries have also agreed to take forward ongoing engagements to encourage joint manufacturing in India of spare parts, components, aggregates and other products for the maintenance of Russian-origin arms and defence equipment under the Make-in-India program through the transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures for meeting the needs of the Indian Armed Forces as well as subsequent export to mutually friendly third countries.
At the 2+2 summit, the two sides signed two contracts for the manufacture of AK-203 rifles under a joint venture in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. The manufacturing unit is to come at Korwa in the northern Defence Industrial Corridor. The project is likely to be executed by a new joint venture firm called Indo-Russian Rifles Private Ltd (IRRPL). The manufacturing unit is expected to generate at least 200 new jobs, including those of specialists and would be geared to produce over 70,000 AK 203 rifles annually. It is also expected to foster a larger ecosystem of suppliers as several components are to be outsourced to MSMEs in Uttar Pradesh as part of the Defence corridor plan. The AK 203 rifles are to replace the in-service INSAS Rifle inducted several decades ago. The order to manufacture assault rifles for the Indian Army has been under discussion for over two years. The joint project is a high priority for both nations with Prime Minister Modi and President Vladimir Putin is known to have taken a personal initiative to take it further at the earliest. This decision was crucial as official plans were in place to commence work at the factory soon. According to the plan, complete transfer of technology of all components will be achieved during the early stage of production.
US want India to reduce defence ties with Russia
On the Russian S-400 missile system deal and the US threat of sanctions, Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov said the deal does not only have symbolic meaning, but is a very important practical, meaningful addition to Indian defence capability. "The deal is being implemented. We witness attempts on the part of the United States to undermine this cooperation and to make India obey the American orders to follow the American vision of how this region should be developed. And now Indian friends clearly and firmly explained that they are a sovereign country and they will decide on whose weapons to buy and who is going to be a partner of India in this and other areas," he said.
In recent years, the continuous deepening of Indo-US ties has gradually impacted India-Russia relations. Not only has Russia worried that the United States intends to wedge between Russia and India to weaken Russia's strategic influence, the increase in India-US military cooperation has also seriously eroded Russia's foreign arms sales. As a result, the proportion of Russian-made weapons and equipment in the Indian army has fallen from 70 per cent to 50 per cent. For this reason, Putin and Lavrov have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction and publicly advised New Delhi to beware of "traps" and not to go further in the "QUAD" Grouping.
At the same time, the world has also noticed that Russia has not only signed an arms supply agreement with India's enemy Pakistan on an "unprecedented" level, but has also excluded India from participating in the "Moscow Mechanism" negotiating the Afghan issue. These developments were unpleasant for India.
For the Modi government, Indo-US ties and Indo-Russia relations are both important and both have a solid foundation for cooperation. The former has an economic foundation with a trade volume of 100 billion US dollars. There is huge potential for cooperation between the two countries, and the momentum of cooperation has increasingly covered political, military, security, and scientific and technological fields. Although the bilateral trade volume with Russia is less than 10 billion US dollars, which is a bit lopsided, but it has a solid trusted strategic foundation for more than half a century, and is backed by traditional military cooperation, and does not have any major differences or conflicts of interest with India.
Putin's visit shows that despite pressure from the United States, the strategic partnership between Russia and India is still at a high level. Although the US threatens to impose sanctions on India, India still insists on purchasing Russia's S-400 air defence missile system. India is trying to balance its relations with the US and Russia. In addition, despite the border conflicts between China and India, New Delhi is unwilling to be too directly involved in the US-China confrontation. The Indian Foreign Minister stated that India pursues an independent foreign policy and its relations with partner countries are based on its interests.
(Author is a journalist who writes on defence, strategic affairs, security and conflict)