Reducing Defence Attachés could have “functional consequences”: Ambassador Venkatesh Varma

It is understood that apart from Russia, the Indian mission in the U.K. too will witness a reduction in the number of Defence Attachés

Published - April 12, 2024 12:04 am IST - NEW DELHI

Indian envoy to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma.

Indian envoy to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma.

As India increases its footprint in the domain of defence diplomacy and prepares to send Defence Attachés to Indian missions in Africa, Armenia, and the Philippines, experts and veteran diplomats have cautioned that the focus has to be on increasing the number of DAs instead of “rationalising” as that could lead to “functional consequences” for the Indian armed forces.

The Hindu had reported on Thursday that, in a first, India is going to send Defence Attachés to multiple Indian missions in East and West Africa, the Philippines, Armenia, and Poland. The move also includes reduction in the number of Indian DAs in Russia which at present has one Air Attaché and one Deputy Air Attaché, one Military Attaché and his deputy and a Naval Attaché who serves along with two Deputy Naval Attachés.

According to information available with The Hindu, all the Deputy Defence Attachés are expected to be withdrawn from the Indian mission in Moscow, as India plans to expand military diplomatic footprint elsewhere. Responding to The Hindu’s report on reduction in the number of Indian Defence Attachés in Moscow, former Indian ambassador to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma struck a note of caution explaining that the India-Russia defence relations are “unlike any other”.

“India-Russia defence relation involves complex supply chain linkages between numerous Russian OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and Indian production points like HAL or our three services – which have over 65% dependency on Russian origin equipment some of which will be in our inventory for the next five decades,” Ambassador Varma said explaining that servicing these linkages especially when there are difficulties due to conflict or sanctions requires adequate manpower in terms various Indian defence wings who have to engage with Russian OEMs that are spread across the continent sized Russian territory. Mr. Varma urged that defence supply chains of India should be undisturbed as India expands its military diplomacy footprint in places like Africa and Southeast Asia, that he described as a ‘welcome step’.

Mr. Varma maintains that the role of Defence Attachés in the Indian Embassy in Moscow is qualitatively different from that of their colleagues in the Indian missions in London and Paris because of the vast – nearly $3 billion – annual India-Russia trade on the defence spare parts alone. Apart from servicing and repairing of platforms like aircraft, submarines, and ships, Indian exchanges with Russia include such items like specialised parachutes and ammunition. All these activities are spread across Russian naval and air bases as well as space ports that require presence of Indian Defence Attaches and reducing the number of deputy Defence Attachés or staff members is expected to cast a shadow on India maintaining smooth defence supply chain with Russia.

“Russian origin inventory in Indian armed forces is essentially an Indian problem, not a Russian problem, which we have to address and solve to ensure optimal combat capabilities for our armed forces in these troubled times,” Ambassador Varma said. India’s defence ties with Russia had been under western scrutiny for a long time and came into sharper focus after Russian defence entities were sanctioned by the west as President Putin launched the war on Ukraine on March 24, 2022. “In these circumstances reduction in manpower in the Indian embassy in Moscow in the name of rationalisation could have negative functional consequences and should be considered with caution,” Mr. Varma said.

It is understood that apart from Russia, Indian mission in the U.K. too will witness a reduction in the number of DAs that will leave the High Commission in London with one DA and a staff. Despite the argument of rationalisation, experts here have not ruled out political factors being behind these moves. India’s relation with the U.K. in recent months have been disturbed by the U.K.’s inability to curb the presence of pro-Khalistan figures and a stagnated talks on a free trade agreement with India. Similarly, India has been criticised by the west for taking energy trade with Russia to unprecedented level disregarding western sanctions on Russia because of its military campaign against Ukraine.

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