The Russian military industry stakes its future in Ukraine | International | The USA Print


In the offensive in Ukraine, the Russian military industry is risking the brand and prestige it achieved during the Cold War. Planes, helicopters, armored cars and a lot of artillery fight face to face in the biggest battles that Europe has seen since World War II. The power of those weapons isn’t just measured on the battlefield, however. The isolation of the Kremlin can affect the sector. Russia, the world’s second largest arms exporter, is not only facing sanctions. China, France and, above all, the United States, are tough competitors for Moscow in a market in which, by buying a weapon, a government also acquires alliances and an image.

“The first thing to understand is why weapons are acquired: either to fight, or to line their pockets, or for politics,” stresses Ruslán Púkhov, a member of the Public Council of the Russian Ministry of Defense and director of Magazine Eksport Vooruzheny of the CAST strategic analysis center. “Without understanding this, it is impossible to understand anything else,” he underlines in a conversation with EL PAÍS. “If Russia fails to successfully complete its special operation in Ukraine, it will lose market. If he wins at some point, the sales will continue,” he adds.

“Russia made a name for itself as a successful and aggressive power. Germany has made an identity for itself as a peace-loving country. Although for many the German armament is very good, it is not the same. In the end, when a politician buys weapons from [el presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin, projects the image of a male manwhile with [la excanciller, Angela] Merkel or [Olaf] Scholz… This is not a 100% defining criterion, but it is important not to forget it”, emphasizes Pújov.

The expert illustrates it with an example: “The AK-47 Kalashnikov is, along with Stolichnaya vodka, Russia’s best-known product. It is a myth, a colossal marketing success, the automatic that liberated Africa and Latin America … and many buy it today despite the fact that it has aged and there are equal or better weapons, ”he says. In contrast, there are cases like Grand Power, an “exceptional” Slovak company that makes fantastic machine guns, but that “only experts know about.”

In this sector almost everything is political and many factors influence. Pukhov cites the late Konstantin Makiyenko, a military expert who also distinguished between countries that buy weapons as a commitment to form part of a larger platform — NATO, for example — and those who acquire through them the protection of their older brother, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia with the US, or Syria with Russia. Therefore, the isolation of the Kremlin could be another blow to its industry.

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China and India, from clients to powers

The problems of the Russian arms industry, however, go back a long way. In the 2017-2021 period, Russia held 19% of the international arms market pie, compared to 24% in the 2012-2016 period, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Its sales volume plummeted between the two decades by 26% due, in part, to the turmoil caused by the annexation of Crimea in 2014. And that fall coincides with that forecast for this year by the Rosoboronexport agency, which estimates that in 2022 It will invoice around 10,600 million euros, 26% less than in 2021.

“I would not invest in Russia. The problems of its arms industry have now become more visible,” says Siemon Wezeman, a researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfer program, by videoconference. “Some of their technology has become outdated. Its prototypes of the last 10 years are not on the battlefield, ”he points out, citing the Armata main battle tank and the testimonial appearance of the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter as an example. “Most of the weapons used are of Soviet origin or designs from that time,” emphasizes the expert.

In addition, analysts point out that Moscow will secretly negotiate with its clients to keep the weapons that had been compromised, in order to replace their losses. Replacing planes, for example, can take at least two years, even if you have enough resources.

The Russian problem is that it concentrates 73% of sales in four countries: India, China, Egypt and Algeria. “Part of our success has been because the Americans were throwing customers at us. They don’t sell to Syria or China, and for a long time they didn’t sell to Algeria either. Russia fills the void left by the US,” says Púkhov.

The point now is that Beijing has technologically caught up with Russia and is gradually moving from customer to vendor. New Delhi, his big business, wants to be independent. “India began before the military operation to go shopping around the world, to the US, to Israel, and for the Russians it has been a great trauma,” he says.

“When Russia fell under the new sanctions, the Americans contacted them to tell them not to buy weapons from us, but the Indians don’t like being ordered around by the whites, they were a colony for too long. In the end, Washington has given up and we continue to export weapons to them, but at discounts, as with oil,” adds Pukhov.

“Competition for the Indian market is high, but Russia has an advantage,” says military researcher Piotr Topychkanov by phone. “No other country wants to share with them their strategic advances and most of their arsenal was made either in Russia or in the USSR,” he adds. Although the country wants to develop its own technology, this goal is economically unfeasible for now.

Half of Russian military sales are aircraft. The flagship project is the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter, a joint project with India, but New Delhi withdrew in 2018, considering it outdated. At least a couple of aircraft have been shot down in Ukraine in recent months.

“It’s not just the plane, it’s its integration into a larger network, its communications and weapons systems, its enhancements,” explains Wezeman. “These programs have to last 20 or 30 years from now. Will Russia be able to keep them? There are many doubts”, adds the SIPRI expert, who also emphasizes that sanctions now intimidate potential buyers of Russian equipment. In any case, he stresses that Russia has good weapons, such as the Ka-52 helicopter, and that basic electronics can be produced domestically.

From foreign policy to business

Pukhov points out that the arms market has evolved in the last two decades from the old model of the Cold War, where it was the continuation of foreign policy, to pure business, “especially with Donald Trump, and now with Joe Biden.” “It will depend on how this conflict develops to see if we go back to a Cold War 2.0 model or if it remains a bazaar,” he says.

Both he and the SIPRI expert point out that Russia may have its niche in regimes that find it difficult to acquire weapons, such as Syria and Myanmar, and in other countries that need “well-priced” weaponry for simple battle environments, such as Africa. Even there, however, competition is growing.

Venezuela, today a Russian ally, was once the main US client in South America. “When Hugo Chavez came to power, he had no desire to buy Russian or Chinese weapons,” he recalls. Now, the offensive on Ukraine has reopened the door to collaboration between Caracas and Washington, which has already eased sanctions on Venezuelan oil. “I don’t think Venezuela is going to buy weapons from them, but it can modernize its F-16 fleet,” he says.

In addition to a tragedy, Ukraine is being a testing ground for weapons. “There is always talk that there is a Wunderwaffe (wonder weapon). The first myth was the S-300, that if they didn’t bomb us with this weapon, and of course they did. Then the cult of the Turkish drone Bayraktar, and his role is very small. Later, everyone thought that artillery was not necessary, and suddenly we were back in World War I. And now only the Himars are spoken of. Let’s see what’s next Wunderwaffe”, Púkhov ironically.

No expert dares to predict what will happen in the coming years. France, the world’s third largest exporter according to SIPRI, could hunt down Russia, according to experts. The image of Russia will be decisive. Pújov cites The Little Serb, a story by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. “For a few years it was fashionable to say that they were the new Nazis, that they had to be punished. Even he, who knows something, wrote about it, and if he had done it 70 years earlier, the child would be German. With the Russians it will be the same. If in 10 years you forget [la ofensiva rusa en Ucrania], our arms market will not change; but if it happens like with the Germans and they always remind us of it, it will greatly influence our sales”, warns the expert.

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