Defexpo-2014: Russian interest augurs well for defence ties

In the New Delhi expo as many as 624 companies from 30 countries will participate. Source: AP

In the New Delhi expo as many as 624 companies from 30 countries will participate. Source: AP

The Russian willingness to come to India's aid and strengthen its defence, by working on joint projects, is being welcomed by Indian policy makers.

Which county has the largest delegation in the Defexpo-2014, which opens today in New Delhi? From which country the largest numbers of companies are taking part in the exhibition? The answer to both questions is Russia. The statistics may not tell everything in a bilateral relationship, but they certainly can become an indicator in measuring its depth. And when the relationship pertains to defence – statistics tell a lot: Russia is the largest defence supplier to India, and this record persists since decades.

The Defexpo, the wider version of which is Land, Naval & Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition, in New Delhi is another testimony of this burgeoning relationship. On the eve of the expo, the Additional Secretary in India’s Defence Ministry (Department of Defence Production), Ashok Kumar Gupta, stated India is no more interested in buyer-seller relationship but in a policy which prefers, “‘buy Indian’, ‘buy and make Indian’ and ‘make Indian’ over ‘buy global’.” Here, Russia is in a position to fulfill India’s aspirations in developing defence products in India. It is the only country with which India has this relationship of joint production and development of arms and armaments. BrahMos is already a vivid example of this relationship, and both the countries are planning to expand the venture and jointly market and sell the products. The Deputy General Director of the Rosoboronoexport, Ivan Goncharenko representing his company in the expo argued, “Moreover, in almost all cases the upcoming talks are directly related to setting up joint ventures, establishing licensed production, and transfer of technology - precisely such cooperation is the mainstream of our bilateral relations.”

In the New Delhi expo as many as 624 companies from 30 countries will participate. The biggest ever defence expo organized by India will witness 37 Russian companies participating in it. The second number comes to France which has 24 companies participating in the expo. Russia’s seriousness to further widen the nature and scope of defence relations was expressed by Ivan Goncharenko. He denounced the reports of waning India-Russia defence relations and stated, that “Clearly, we are planning to promote a large number of army and naval equipment, air defense systems and aircraft models at Defexpo India.” Compare his words with the words of the newly appointed Indian Ambassador to Moscow, P. S. Raghavan who rejected in gloomy perception on the relationship and observed that “Russia is India’s strongest defence partner by a long shot and this is not going to change in the foreseeable future.”

Speaking to the press, India’s Secretary (Defence Production), G. C. Pati, appeared jubilant when he stated that the host country will be the major attraction in the expo. The display of India’s defence items such as unmanned aerial vehicles also indicates its increasing confidence, and emergence as a military power. In this context, the Russian willingness to come to India’s aid and strengthen its defence is being welcome by Indian policy makers.

From another perspective, the major powers of the world have witnessed significant a rise in their defence expenditure in recent years. It implies two things. First, the nations have become increasingly wary of the rising geopolitical rivalry whether in Asia-Pacific or Middle East or Eurasia, and consider defence preparedness as a bulwark against threat from these rivalries. Second, the increasing conflicts and rising instability in conflict hot-spots like Afghanistan have necessitated a policy of increased defence spending. Withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan will create a security vacuum, which will propel countries like India and Russia to strategize their defence cooperation in Afghanistan to maintain peace and stability. The Defexpo can provide another venue for the two countries to boost defence cooperation towards maintaining peace and stability in the region.

India-Russia relations are to grow in coming years. It is expected that the current Defexpo will contribute to this growth factor and witness some key developments in defence cooperation between the two countries.  

Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.

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