Inside Modi-Putin Arms Talks: Unveiling the Strategic Agenda

Russia and India have a long history of defense cooperation. What kind of weapons have they already traded, and what will they talk about this time?

by Sededin Dedovic
Inside Modi-Putin Arms Talks: Unveiling the Strategic Agenda
© Handout / Getty Images

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making his first visit to Russia since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine to discuss issues including defense and arms agreements, writes Al Jazeera. Details of the new arms deals between the two countries are yet to be revealed, but it is understood that Russia's need for weapons and ammunition for the war in Ukraine is a driving force behind these talks.

Modi has the ability to offer significant Indian industrial support to Russia for the Ukrainian war in exchange for energy and military technology. The support would be practical but would not go as far as publicly backing Russia's war efforts.

The visit serves as a reminder to the world that the ties between India and Russia—especially in defense and weaponry—stretch back decades and remain strong.

What is the history of India-Russia defense agreements?

In the past decade, India has focused on strengthening its own military-industrial complex, telling international defense partners that "Made in India" is a priority and that technology transfers to Indian companies are a key part of any agreement, whether with Russia or others.

However, the Indian armed forces still heavily rely on armored divisions, with 97 percent of their 3,740 tanks being of Russian manufacture.

Tableaux artists ride tractors past an Indian Army tank during Republic Day parade rehearsals at Rajpath near the Indian Preside© Anindito Mukherjee / Getty Images

Although India has attempted to diversify its defense procurements and partly wean itself off Russian weapons, Russian companies largely continue to aid the Indian defense industry in maturing rapidly.

The day before Modi left for Moscow, the Russian state export company Rostec signed an agreement to manufacture advanced anti-tank "Mango" shells in India for T-90 tanks.

How else have India and Russia cooperated in defense?

Defense cooperation between the two countries has been significant.

For instance, the supersonic anti-ship missile BrahMos was jointly designed by Indian and Russian engineers for the Indian armed forces and was first tested in 2001. BrahMos is a portmanteau of the names of the rivers Brahmaputra and Moscow, symbolizing the cooperation between the two countries.

The missile is fast and powerful, capable of carrying a 300-kilogram warhead at a speed three times the speed of sound with an accuracy of less than one meter. It has since been exported to the Philippines. Russian joint ventures with India also include the production of 35,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles for the Indian army, the licensed production of advanced T-90 tanks and Sukhoi Su-30-MKI fourth-generation fighter jets, as well as maintenance facilities for Indian MiG-29 fighter jets.

They also collaborate on producing the Konkurs anti-tank guided missile.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) takes a group photo with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd L), Brazils President Michel © Pool / Getty Images

What else might Modi and Putin discuss?

Cheap Russian oil has been a mainstay of the Indian economy for over a year, being a primary recipient of oil shipments that breached US and EU sanctions.

Nuclear energy will also be discussed at the talks in Moscow. Several Indian nuclear reactors have been built in Russia, and there are ongoing talks with India about purchasing Russian floating and marine nuclear reactors, useful for remote areas as well as for submarines and larger navy ships with a longer range, writes Al Jazeera.

Soldiers from the Madras Sappers of the Indian Army participate in a full dress rehearsal parade to celebrate India’s Republic© Abhishek Chinnappa / Getty Images

Where will Russia source the weapons it needs for the war in Ukraine? Moscow is desperate to meet the constant demand of its armed forces for artillery and tank ammunition of all types for its war in Ukraine.

The Russian armed forces conservatively fire 8,000 shells a day. With an average cost of $4,000 each, Russia spends $32 million daily trying to break the stalemate on Ukrainian battlefields. While Russia's economy is technically on a war footing, Putin still has to court North Korea and Vietnam, countries that produce Russian-caliber artillery shells and both have large domestic ammunition factories, especially for the much-needed 152 mm shell.

While continued support for Ukraine is in question in the United States, and European and Turkish ammunition factories ramp up production, Ukraine and Russia are increasingly relying on assistance from other countries to secure the vast quantities of ammunition needed to keep their opponents at bay.

Both countries are seeking new partners in the hope of outproducing the other and delivering the intense firepower they believe is needed to turn the tide in what has become a static conflict. Russia hopes that, along with North Korea and Vietnam, the Indian industry can help provide the tools needed to defeat Ukraine.

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