top of page

Ukraine Sanctions & India’s 1990’s Moment in Defence


United States and allies as UK, Japan and South Korea and the European Union have imposed stringent sanctions on Russia after launch of the, “Special Military Operation,” which has manifested into a bloody war with large number of civilian casualties.

The Sanctions include the entire defence industrial complex of Russia, an unprecedented action which restricts exports of arms and munitions to importers such as India amongst others due to impact on the Russian industry and through the mechanism of secondary sanctions.

Secondary Sanctions - Impact

In a review on syndication platform, Mondaq, Kachawa and Partners an Indian law firm concludes, “a broad interpretation of US law suggests that the US President can extend sanctions to third party states [as India]. This can be done by enforcing Section 535.329 of Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which enables the US, to act against any entity, "wheresoever organized or doing business which is owned or controlled by US".

While the United States seems to be hedging on using secondary sanctions on India given the significance of New Delhi to the Indo Pacific Strategy (IPS) and membership of the QUAD, as of now the impact will be felt mainly due to possible delays in supply chain for spares and maintenance as well as platforms and weapons systems.

But the sword of secondary sanctions will continue to be leveraged by Washington which will impact Indo US relations in the near future.

Embargo on High Technology Imports by Russia

Importantly Russia is also embargoed for receiving high technology components such as micro electronics, chips and so on which is expected to add to the delay in manufacture.

Meanwhile much of the Russian equipment with the Armed Forces is vintage thus requiring extensive spares, overhaul and maintenance support.

Sanctions on Russian banks and financial institutions also implies that exclusive channels for this purpose will have to be created which would lead to delays in processing as well as perception of lower values from payments made or received.

Russian Origin Equipment with Indian Armed Forces

Indian Army, Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF) hold large quantum of Russian origin military equipment which is with the front line units.

For instance the entire tank inventory of the Indian Army – T 90 S and T 72 is of Russian origin with only two regiments fielding the indigenous Arjun tank.

More over there are substantial orders such as T 90 S tanks and AK 203 assault rifle which is to be manufactured in India with Russian collaboration.

As far as the Indian Navy is concerned the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and the Kilo class submarines are of Russian origin while four frigates and a nuclear submarine on lease is on order apart from other key platforms such as MiG 29 K fighter and Ka series of helicopters.

The Indian Air Force possibly has the largest quantum of Russian origin combat fighters as the Su 30 MKI and MiG 29, Mi 17 helicopters amongst others.

Ukraine is also a significant partner for military technical cooperation with India particularly in terms of the gas turbine engines and modernization of the AN 32 transport fleet. As of now there are reports of disruption of the Ukraine arms industry due to Russian air and missile strikes, thus the situation is unclear.

Managing Through Supply Uncertainties

The possibility of removal of sanctions particularly on the Russian defence industry remains extremely unlikely in the near to mid term future, India will have to reckon with managing operational readiness in a state of supply uncertainties.

Various options are available and the 1990’s playbook may have to be revived which was used to firstly overcome the non availability of systems and spares due to collapse of the Soviet Union and sanctions on India post the 1998 Shakti tests.

A realistic appraisal has to be undertaken by the three services coordinated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Absence of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) at the helm may be a constraint.

The untimely demise of General Bipin Rawat has led to a vacuum as the government has not yet appointed his relief though there is speculation that the Army Chief General MM Naravane the senior most of the chiefs was the most likely contender.

Hopefully with General Naravane due to retire on April 30th, a decision will be taken in the coming days to fill up this critical vacuum.

Atma Nirbharta in Defence

Clearly need of the hour is to pursue the Government’s programme of Atma Nirbharata in defence with full vigour and look for replacement of major systems of the military – such as tanks, ships, submarines and fighter aircraft through indigenous design development and manufacture.

India’s defence industry public and private has the potential, but there are systemic and procedural hurdles as well as vested interests that are preventing full fructification of this potential.

The challenge of supply chain disruption should be seen as an opportunity for indigenization – more about it later.

Last Point– Strategic Defence Partner

While Atma Nirbhrata is welcome an overnight shift is not envisaged. India will have to continue to foster relations with Russia and also look at widening military technical support so that excessive reliance on a single source does not created a crisis of operational readiness.


bottom of page