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Geopolitical Divide: Impact on India’s Defence Capability

Engrossed in playing the important role of heading the G 20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India’s diplomacy will have to also pay greater attention to ongoing geopolitical developments that are expected to impact defence capability at a time of continued face offs between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh and McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.

The coming summer campaigning season may be decisive particularly post G 20 summit in September being hosted by India which would remove constraints if any on China to avoid a confrontation on the borders.

Geopolitical Divide - Return of Bipolarism

While we may pretend that the world continues to be multi polar or multilateral, yet the transition to the bi polar global order – US led versus Russia/China is now in place.

The ideological divisions seem to be between democracies and authoritarian regimes or those following the rules based world order and the rest as claimed these have transformed into increasing restrictions and blockades in terms of economy, trade, energy, information, media and of course military.

Impact on Defence Capability

Of concern to India from the above development stated very briefly is the impact on defence capability due to expected tightening on sanctions on Russia which may also include secondary – that is on countries as India restricting economic, energy and military trade with Moscow.

So far Indian diplomacy has successfully navigated the minefield of Western sanctions and appeals to name Russia as the aggressor, the pressure is likely to increase in the coming days.

The sanctions may expand to approvals by exceptions from the current model which target specific companies, institutions and personnel in Russia or having linkages to these.

A general sanctions regime would imply each contract will have to be by exception approved by the US Department of State, on the same lines of the sanctions on Iran.

This would have two major implications, firstly – creating a challenge of normal trade relations with Russia even though India may state that it does not recognize unilateral sanctions and secondly need for seeking case to case exceptions weaking position vis a vis the US and Europe.

This would put increase India’s defence capability deficit even as multiple reports indicate that there are already concerns over impact of sanctions and Russia’s war in Ukraine affecting availability of spares.

Payment and Spares Conundrum

A Bloomberg report has outlined how $ 2 billion in payments due from India is leading to an impasse with Moscow which is declining credit for “$10 billion worth of spare parts as well as two S-400 missile-defence system batteries that are yet to be delivered”.

As the PLA is knocking on the doors of the Indian Army in the North and the PLA Navy and Strategic Support Forces are expanding their foot print in the Indian Ocean Region, shortage of spares is expected to impact the Indian Air Force in particular as per Bloomberg given over 12 squadrons of frontline Su 30 MKI combat fighters and multiple squadrons of Mi 17 helicopters.

Despite examining multiple options including creation of debt, use of non dollar currencies and so on a solution is elusive.

In case the sanctions are tightened on Russia it may become be well nigh impossible for New Delhi to chart out an alternative course.

Indigenisation Failures

While much has been made of the Make in India in defence or Atma Nirbhar Bharat in defence programme the outcomes on spares indigenization a critical facet for keeping the combat equipment in a high readiness state has been limited.

Aditya Pareek of Takshashila Institution and Pranav R. Satyanath have highlighted this facet in the Print.

They underline the limited progress in indigenising of spare parts for Russian-origin platforms by India despite the known challenges that may arise in case of a geopolitical crisis.

Given Russian inhibitions in allowing indigenous spares being utilized on platforms supplied by it as a OEM and on which there are limited quality controls, the process is reported to have stalled.


While active negotiations are ongoing between India and Russia, the most recent one being during the visit of Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Denis Manturov, the Co-chair of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC) to New Delhi from 17- 18 April 2023 more needs to be done to impress upon Russia, India’s critical needs particularly in the defence field.

The “No Limits partnership,” between China and Russia should not become a barrier to supporting New Delhi in maintaining operational readiness. In this context while a Putin Xi summit was held recently the second special one in the last year plus – Indian Prime Minister and the Russian President failed to hold the annual summit for 2022 and none is scheduled so far this year. There is a need for giving this a priority despite the scheduling challenges that are anticipated.

In the long run Atma Nirbhar Bharat in defence has to be go beyond sloganeering to identify criticalities and focus on the same rather than only restricting to possibilities.


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