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In recent years, Russia has been facing challenges in its long-standing arms trade relationship with India. The economic sanctions imposed on Russia have hindered India’s ability to make payments for weapon imports, causing a significant reduction in the volume of arms purchases from its traditional partner. This shift in dynamics has prompted Russia to explore new avenues for cooperation, leading to a notable change in the format of their military-technical collaboration.

The 21st meeting of the India-Russia Working Group on Military-Technical Cooperation and Defence Industry, held in New Delhi on October 27, 2023, marked a significant milestone in this evolving partnership. During the meeting, Russia proposed a new working process to India, aiming to adapt to the changing circumstances in the global arms trade market. The core of this proposal involves a transition from supplying complete weapons systems to providing India with technology and systems, enabling the country to domestically manufacture its own weapons.

India has historically been heavily reliant on Russian arms imports, with these imports constituting around 27 percent of its total. This places Russia as India’s leading arms supplier, followed by China at 21 percent and Egypt at 12 percent, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). However, the last few years have witnessed a shift in these numbers, largely due to the economic sanctions against Russia, which have made arms deals more complicated.

One significant indicator of this shift is the decline in Russia’s share of global arms exports, falling from 22 percent during 2013-2017 to 16 percent during 2018-2022, as reported by SIPRI. In contrast, the United States has solidified its position as the world’s leading arms supplier, increasing its share from 33 to 40 percent during the same period.

Delving deeper into the SIPRI data reveals that the Russian arms export market is undergoing a transformation. For eight of its ten largest customers, Russia has experienced a decline in arms sales, and in some cases, this decline has been particularly severe. The most significant change has been in Russia’s arms sales to India, a country that had long been the largest recipient of Russian weapons. Sales to India have decreased by a substantial 37 percent. Moreover, sales to the other seven significant customers have fallen by an average of 59 percent, indicating a broader trend of declining Russian arms exports.

As Russia navigates this challenging environment, its strategy has adapted to accommodate India’s constraints. The proposal to shift towards technology transfer and domestic production not only serves the interests of both nations but also reflects a dynamic response to the evolving landscape of arms trade. This new approach could potentially reshape the India-Russia military-technical cooperation, further diversifying the strategic partnership beyond conventional arms exports. It remains to be seen how this shift will impact their collaboration and if it will help overcome the hurdles imposed by economic sanctions and changing geopolitical dynamics.

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