INS Trishul, a warship built in Russia, acquired by the Indian Navy in 2003

India's long-standing ties to Russia have come under the spotlight - especially in the defence sector - following the invasion of Ukraine

by Shruti Menon

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said during a visit to the US in April that India would like to be a "good friend" to Western countries. But she added that India didn't want to be weakened, and needed to ensure its security - taken to mean its long-standing reliance on Russian military equipment - would continue.

How Dependent Is India On Russian Arms?

India is one of the world's largest buyers of weapons, and had a close defence relationship with the former Soviet Union for many years.

India's rivalry with Pakistan, and increasingly with China, means Russia has remained a key partner for Delhi, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Since 1992, about two-thirds of Indian military equipment has come from Russia, according to SIPRI (the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), which tracks global arms transfers and military expenditure.

This includes fighter jets, nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers, tanks and missiles.

Is India Trying To Diversify Its Arms Supplies?

In the last decade, its reliance on Russian weapons has reduced and it has bought more equipment from other countries - noticeably from France, but also from Israel and the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK.

Figures from SIPRI show that the value of arms sales by France, the US and Israel to India in 2021 were double what they were in 2017, although Russia remains a major supplier.

Similarly, during a trip to Delhi in April by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK and India pledged to deepen defence and security ties, highlighting joint collaboration in advanced jet fighter technology.

India has also turned to Israel for some of its high-tech defence and security needs, including:

drone equipment
airborne warning systems
anti-missile defence
precision-guided munitions

And India's military ties with the US have been growing strongly, with defence trade between them rising considerably from 2018 to 2019.

Major purchases include US long-range maritime patrol aircraft and C-130 transport aircraft, as well as missiles and drones, and a recent Pentagon statement spoke of "deepening co-operation" in space defence and cyber-security.

Is India Rethinking Its Reliance On Russian Arms?

Changing international politics in recent years means India's ties with countries such as France, the US and Israel have become closer.

Despite that, India has not joined in the international condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, making clear it doesn't want to take sides. Some defence experts believe that India may find it has little choice other than to lessen its dependence on Moscow, given the impact of sanctions on Russia.

Sameer Lalwani, a defence and security analyst at the Stimson Centre, says there could now be issues with key components for the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system, which India bought in 2018, only part of which has been delivered.

"There's strong reason to believe that... Russia will be unable to fulfil its contractual commitments to India with delivery of all of the S-400 system," says Mr Lalwani.

He also believes that the losses Russia has incurred in Ukraine could mean it may not be able to meet India's needs "because it will be desperate to use all the spares to replenish its own forces".

Why is Russia Losing So Many Tanks Iin Ukraine?

And he says Indian policymakers may be taking note of some of the issues that have faced Russian battlefield equipment and munitions in Ukraine.

Could India Manage Without Russian Arms?

That looks unlikely at the moment.

A US Congressional report in October last year said that the "Indian military cannot operate effectively without Russian-supplied equipment and will continue to rely on Russian weapons systems in the near and middle term".

The report noted that Russia offers its weapons at relatively attractive prices.

Sangeeta Saxena, editor of Delhi-based Aviation and Defence Universe, says the Indian army in particular will continue to keep buying from Russia.

She says it's not just the fact its personnel are familiar with their equipment, but also that the relationship with Russia has withstood the test of time.

But she adds that India wants to develop its homegrown defence industry, sometimes in joint partnerships with other countries.

This involves using state-of-the-art technology from abroad to give a major push to arms manufacturing under programmes such as "Make in India", explains Ms Saxena.

India will buy from whoever it thinks offers the most suitable or best-value deal - be it Russia or other countries, she explains.