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India Russia Arms Trade – 2017 - 21

In a press release on March 14, Stockholm, Sweden based think tank SIPRI noted that international transfers of major arms saw a slight drop between 2012–16 and 2017–21 (–4.6 per cent).

An important facet of the Arms Trade survey was the details of trade between Russia and India given the

likely impact of extensive sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by the United States and European Members amongst other countries which is expected to lead to considerable hazards in sustenance of arms imports by India.

In addition there are sanctions on Russian banks and the financial system such as transfers through SWIFT money transfer platform. This will lead to considerable impediments in making payments.

Some $ 12 billion arms trade is expected between the two countries in the coming years for which contracts have been inked already.

Here is a review of the trends in Russia’s arms exports and India’s arms imports as provided as per SIPRI.

A likely analysis of impact is also provided thereafter-

Russian Exports – Trends

Russia’s arms exports fell by 26 per cent between 2012–16 and 2017–21, and its share of global arms exports decreased from 24 per cent to 19 per cent as per SIPRI.

In contrast to the USA, Russia’s exports in 2017–21 were more concentrated as four states—India,

China, Egypt and Algeria which received 73 per cent of total Russian arms exports.

The overall drop in Russian arms exports between 2012–16 and 2017–21was almost entirely due to decreases in arms exports to India (–47 per cent) and Viet Nam (–71 per cent) as per SIPRI.

While a number of arms export contracts signed over the past 10 years had been completed by the end of 2021, several large Russian arms deliveries are still pending and include eight air defence systems, four frigates and one nuclear-powered submarine to India as per SIPRI.

India’s Imports – Trends

In comparison between 2012–16 and 2017–21 Indian arms imports decreased by 21 per cent but India continues to be the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2017–21 and accounts for 11 per cent of total global arms imports in the period.

Russia was the largest supplier of major arms to India in both 2012–16 and 2017–21, but India’s imports of Russian arms dropped by 47 per cent between the two periods as per SIPRI.

The drop is an outcome as per SIPRI due to India’s increased efforts to diversify its arms supplier base, thus Russia’s share of total Indian arms imports fell from 69 per cent to 46 per cent.

In contrast, India’s arms imports from France increased more than tenfold, making it India’s second largest arms supplier in 2017–21.

SIPRI believes that drop in India’s arms imports is a temporary phenomenon as India has a requirement of equipping the forces due to considerable threat perception from a Two Front War by China and Pakistan.

The drop is attributed to slow and complex procurement process as well as its shift in suppliers as per SIPRI.

The Variable of Sanctions

Adding the variable of tightened sanctions on Russia which are in multiple layers from primary, to secondary to downstream and reputational, new arms contracts between Russia and India may be on the backburner for now till the situation is diffused.

On the other hand fulfilling of existing contracts will be the main focus for which alternative channels of processing payments will have to be evolved by the two sides.

Going back on the experience of how India managed sanctions post the 1998 Shakti nuclear tests and the multiple time Iran was placed under sanctions by the United States may be the playbook that India may now put into place for continuing to import arms from Russia.

Diversification of imports may pose a challenge as the essential requirements of the armed forces may not be easily available in the quantity that is required by the large size of the Indian military.

While indigenization may be the way ahead, poor research and development and defence industry potential could be a dampener.

Will this impact India’s defence preparedness vis a vis the threat perception, a deeper analysis will be essential?


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