India is seeking to distance itself from its largest arms supplier, as Russia's ability to supply New Delhi with ammunition and parts for weapons systems has been hampered by the protracted war in Ukraine. However, the Narendra Modi government aims to tread carefully so as not to push Moscow closer to Beijing, as China is India's main rival.
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Thus, the world's largest arms importer is slowly but surely turning west, as the United States seeks to strengthen its influence in the Indo-Pacific region in order to create a buffer zone for China's influence.
As Reuters reported, citing the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 60% of India's arms supplies over the past 20 years have come from Russia. However, the war in Ukraine has accelerated efforts to diversify its weapons system assets.
“We are unlikely to sign any major military agreement with Russia,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert at the Observer Research Center in New Delhi. “That would be a red line for Washington.”
Why does New Delhi insist?
New Delhi appears to be holding out despite Moscow's tempting offers, which include advanced Kamov helicopters and Sukhoi and MiG fighter jets.
Russia has publicly urged India to strengthen defense ties, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned his attention to domestic production using Western technology, experts and officials said. Such efforts fit best with the Indian Prime Minister's “Make in India” programme, which aims to encourage domestic manufacturing.
India is expected to spend nearly $100 billion on defense equipment orders over the next decade, the Indian Defense Minister said.
Last year, India and the United States reached an agreement allowing the American company General Electric to produce fighter aircraft engines in India.
The two countries also plan to accelerate technological cooperation and joint production in areas such as air defense and information technology.
India's strengthening of its ties with the United States is causing concern in China, with the armies of the two countries involved in a confrontation on the border in the Himalayan region. As of 2020, the encounter has claimed the lives of 24 soldiers. Therefore, New Delhi does not, for any reason, want its distancing from Moscow to lead to a tightening of the Kremlin’s relations with Beijing, which in such a situation would be the only major importer of Russian products.
As Reuters noted, Russian arms exports have largely stabilized after the initial turmoil caused by the invasion of Ukraine. However, some concerns remain for the Kremlin.
India is eyeing French fighter planes for its newest aircraft carrier, and wants to build submarines with French, German or Spanish technology and fighter planes with American and French engines.
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