India must be alarmed that its largest arms supplier Russia is foraging around the world to shore up its own arsenal depleted severely by the invasion of Ukraine. Russia has now turned to North Korea for weapons, according to US officials cited in media reports. Moscow is preparing to buy “millions of rockets and artillery shells” from Pyongyang, say these reports.

And they are meant to make good shortages caused by the ongoing Ukraine war and severe sanctions imposed by the West that may have made it difficult for Russia to source materials to produce replacements.

The US had earlier said that Russia was buying drones from Iran.

Russia was the world’s second largest exporter of arms between 2017 and 2021 with 19 per cent of the market share, according to the March 2022 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a widely-respected tracker of international arms transfers.

The United States was the top exporter over the same period with 39 per cent market share.

India has been the world’s largest importer of arms, as it was over the same period, with 11 per cent of all arms sold internationally. It has also been the top buyer of Russia weapons, picking up 28 per cent of the latter’s total arms exports over 2017-2021.

Russia is India’s top supplier, accounting for 46 per cent of all its arms buys, but New Delhi has been diversifying its supplier base and is buying more from France and the United States, in that order. Its arms imports from Russia have fallen as a result from 69 per cent over 2012-2016.

Though declining, India’s arms imports from Russia are still a sizable quantity and are often cited in defence – or justification – of its reluctance to criticise Russia for its egregious international transgressions such as invasion of Ukraine.

Historic ties going back to the erstwhile Soviet Union are also said to be a factor, especially in 1971 when the US had deployed its Seventh Fleet to intimidate India.

India has been cutting its dependence on Russian military hardware, as the numbers cited earlier demonstrate, but it is still buying a substantial amount of expensive equipment such as the S-400 air defence missile systems, which have begun arriving in India, watched warily by the United States that has said this deal could trigger punitive actions under a 2017 US law that mandates secondary sanctions against buyers of significant quantities of Russian war equipment.

To the irritation of many in the US and other western countries, India has not condemned the Russian invasion unequivocally and stepped up its purchases of discounted Russian oil because it’s in India’s national interest.

But as the Ukraine war goes badly for Russia, New Delhi would be watching closely as its largest arms supplier turns to unexpected suppliers such as Iran and North Korea, neither country can boast of robust defence manufacturing industry.

In fact, Americans believe that the Iranian drones have already been problematic for the Russians.

Russia received several consignments of Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over several days in August, according to US officials, who, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Moscow planned to buy several hundreds of these vehicles.

The officials have said, citing intelligence, that there have been technical problems with these vehicles.

The Ukraine invasion has proven costly for Russia. Ukrainian military claimed last Friday that it had killed 50,150 Russian military personnel since the war began in February, destroyed 2,077 tanks, 4,484 armored combat vehicles, 1,179 artillery units, 876 unmanned aerial vehicles, 236 aircraft, 207 helicopters, 15 ships/boats, 3,305 vehicles and fuel tankers, 209 cruise missiles, 109 pieces of special equipment, and 156 anti-aircraft warfare systems. These numbers have not been independently corroborated.