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Sambit Patra asked: With growing Russian defence ties with China, is Indian strategic defence inventory at threat?

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  • Mandip Singh replies: The growing relationship between Russia and China is an outcome of their mutual interest in balancing the US ‘rebalancing’ strategy to the Asia–Pacific. However, relations between Russia and China have been marred by differences since the Khrushchev years when it came to a head during the Ussuri River incident in 1966. Ever since, the two countries have sparred over the issue of trans-border migration and changing demography in Russia’s Far East; control over Arctic’s vast resources and trade routes; domination of the Central Asian Republics, particularly its energy resources; and Russia’s allegations of ‘reverse engineering’ of defence equipment by China, particularly the J-10/J-11 planes. However, there have been areas of convergence too. Both countries are on the same page with regards to Syria and Iran, and have a mutual interest in balancing the US in the region. Also, Russia needs to sell its vast oil and gas reserves to China. In recent years, Russian military industrial complex has been in dire need of an infusion of capital. China has stepped in to fill this need.

    The relationship needs to be seen in the light of the above argument. It’s a win-win for both without compromising on their positions in areas of divergence. India depends on Russia for a large number of its weapons, but that percentage is slowly seeing a decline. In recent years, India has undertaken two major initiatives to diversify its weapons procurement arsenal: firstly, to encourage indigenous production. To this end, the new policy on ‘offsets’ and procurement released by the government merits a look, and secondly, India has diversified sources by procuring weapons from a number of countries, for e.g. the MMRCA Rafale from France, C-17 Globemasters and C-130J Hercules from the US, Radars/ISR systems from Israel, and T-90 tanks from Russia, etc. With the increasing focus on indigenous production and encouragement to private-public enterprise in defence industry in India, the dependence on foreign procurements will gradually subside. Thus, I do not visualise any impact of the China-Russia bonhomie on India’s defence inventory.