NEW DELHI: India is exploring ways to avoid a major disruption in its supply of Russian-made weaponry amid US sanctions following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tightrope walk could become more difficult due to a continuing border standoff with China.

Experts say up to 60pc of Indian defence equipment comes from Russia, and New Delhi finds itself in a bind at a time when it is facing a two-year-old standoff with China in eastern Ladakh over a territorial dispute, with tens of thousands of soldiers within shooting distance. Twenty Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers died in a clash in 2020.

“The nightmare scenario for India would be if the US comes to the conclusion that it confronts a greater threat from Russia and that this justifies a strategic accommodation with China. In blunt terms, concede Chinese dominance in Asia while safeguarding its European flank,” Shyam Saran, India’s former foreign secretary, wrote in a recent blog post.

Would China, drawing lessons from Ukraine, be an aggressor in disputed eastern Ladakh or in Taiwan? “It is very possible they might do it,” said Jitendra Nath Misra, a retired diplomat and distinguished fellow in the Jindal School of International Affairs.

President Joe Biden has spoken about unresolved differences with India after the country abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Modi has so far avoided voting against Russia or criticising Putin for invading Ukraine.

In the early 1990s, about 70pc of Indian army weapons, 80pc of its air force systems and 85pc of its navy platforms were of Soviet origin. India is now reducing its dependency on Russian arms and diversifying its defence procurements, buying more from countries like the United States, Israel, France and Italy.

From 2016-20, Russia accounted for nearly 49pc of India’s defence imports while French and Israeli shares were 18pc and 13pc, respectively, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

India not only depends on Russian weaponry, but it also relies hugely on Moscow for military upgrades and modernisation as it moves towards self-reliance in its defence sector, said Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, a former Indian military commander.

Russia is the only country that leased a nuclear submarine to India. Will any other country lease India a nuclear submarine? Hooda asked.

Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said: India’s navy has one aircraft carrier. Its Russian. India’s bulk of fighter jets and about 90pc of its battle tanks are Russian.” In 1987, the Indian navy leased a Chakra-1, a Charlie-class nuclear cruise missile submarine, from the former Soviet Union for training. It later got another Soviet submarine, Chakra-2, in its place. In 2019, India signed a $3 billion contract to lease an Akula-1-class nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia for 10 years. It is expected to be delivered by 2025.

India bought its only aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, from the Russia in 2004. The carrier had served during the former Soviet Union and later for the Russian navy. India’s first indigenous 40,000-tonne aircraft carrier is undergoing sea trials ahead of its planned induction by next year.

India also has four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines on the way.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2022

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