26 May 2023

Russia Is Defaulting on Weapons Sales. The US Should Fill the Gap

Michael Rubin

India may be the world’s most populous country and its largest democracy, but for decades, its military has depended disproportionately upon Russian arms. That legacy New Delhi may now regret.

In 2018, India paid Russia $5.4 billion for the S-400 Triumf air defense system. India also depends on Russia for spare parts for both its Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighter jets. Following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia halted deliveries, leaving India in the lurch, especially as China threatens India’s territory and Pakistan its security.

India is not alone. While Armenia, like India, has pivoted westward in recent years, its military continues to rely on Soviet and Russian weaponry. Armen Grigoryan, Armenia’s national security adviser, complained last week that Russia was in delivery default on a number of arms contracts for which Armenia had already paid. The silly or the simple can respond to such complaints by repeating as a mantra, “Armenia is a satellite of Russia,” but the reality is more complex.

During the Cold War, the United States sided with Pakistan. Times change. Today, Pakistan is a vassal of China. A leaked document shows Hina Rabbani Khar, minister of state for foreign affairs, arguing Pakistan should “no longer try to maintain a middle ground between China and the United States.” Instead, she argues, the country’s future belongs to Beijing.

Armenia’s democratic revolution and subsequent elections in which the old guard failed to return despite the shock of Armenia’s loss in the second Nagorno-Karabakh War also reflect a new geopolitical reality. As Armenia consolidated democracy, Azerbaijan solidified its autocracy, and as Armenia reoriented itself from Russia to the West, Azerbaijan turned instead to Moscow.

Today, Azerbaijan is ground zero for Russian money laundering. Armenia may be a legacy member of Russia’s defense block, but it participates in NATO peacekeeping missions, drills with the U.S. military, and partners with the Kansas National Guard.

As geopolitical winds shift, it is imperative that the Pentagon and Congress catch up. While President Joe Biden and national security adviser Jake Sullivan bizarrely urge the U.S. to provide Pakistan with advanced avionics, a far better investment would be to sell advanced fighter jets, jet engines, and air defense systems to India.

India has a clean track record of firewalling its diverse arsenal to prevent technology leakage. To offer India aircraft and air defense systems to fill the gap created by Russian nondelivery might not only win friends now ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit next month, but it could also build a foundation for a decadeslong relationship given training and maintenance requirements over the systems’ lifespans.

Cementing change in Armenia is as desirable. Armenia desperately needs the means to defend itself as Azerbaijan and Turkey provoke conflict to distract from their own financial mismanagement. That Azerbaijan attacked Armenia during peace talks brokered by Secretary of State Antony Blinken both shows its insincerity and reinforces the reality that peace comes through strength. French President Emmanuel Macron recognizes this and has offered Armenia weaponry. The U.S. should do likewise to solidify Armenia’s geopolitical leap from Russia to the West.

Strategists seek to build alliances and flip adversaries into allies. Openings come organically when enemies err. As Biden has stumbled, adversaries have rushed to seize advantage. China’s embrace of Saudi Arabia is a case in point. As Russia stumbles, it is essential to remain clear-eyed about the opportunities in both South Asia and the Caucasus.

In India and Armenia, Washington has the ability to advance America’s interests and a concert of democracies for a generation to come. The only question is whether the Biden administration will remain asleep at the switch.

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