Russia Receives Record $56 Billion in Weapons Orders After ‘Arms Expo’ in Syria Campaign

March 30, 2016
BPM97 border patrol vehicle in Syria, also seen in Lugansk Region in Ukraine last year. Screen grab of TV1

LIVE UPDATES: Russia sold $14.5 billion in armaments last year, many to the world’s conflict zones and has a record $56 billion in arms orders for 2016 after showcasing its weapons in the Syrian war.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Getting The News From Chechnya – The Crackdown On Free Press You May Have Missed
Aurangzeb, Putin, Realism and a Lesson from History
Why the World Should Care About the Assassination of Boris Nemtsov
How Boris Nemtsov Was Murdered: Investigation by Novaya Gazeta
How Stalin Returned to Russian Contemporary Life – Meduza


Charges Against Jailed Art Activist Pavlensky Changed to “Destruction of Cultural Heritage Building” for Setting Lubyanka Doors on Fire

The charges against jailed artist Pyotr Pavlensky have been revised, Radio Svoboda, the Russian-language service of RFE/RL reported, citing Interfax.

Pavlensky, an art activist in the aktionist tradition, was arrested for setting fire to the doors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Lubyanka Square last November 9.

Originally he was charged with “vandalism motivated by ideological hatred” but now his offense has been re-qualified as “destruction of an object of cultural heritage.”
Yesterday, March 29, Moscow City Court confirmed his pre-trial arrest as lawful and extended it until April 5. Pavlensky himself had asked that the charges be changed to “terrorism,” RASPI, the law news agency reported.
If found guilty of destroying what is now declared to be a cultural treasure under Art. 243, Pavlensky could be looking at some serious prison time, as it is punishable by fines  or compulsory labor or imprisonment up to three years. Under section 2 of this offense, if the item in question is deemed to be  “especially valuable object of the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation” or of “world heritage,” he could face up to six years of forced labor or prison.
We checked and found that the FSB building on Lubyanka Square, site of the KGB, NKVD and Cheka, the Soviet-era intelligence agencies, does indeed appear to be in this registry 
as follows, regarding the structure at Bolshaya Lubyanka, no. 11, built in 1878:

Building of the All-Russian Extreme Commission for Battle with Counterrevolution and Sabotage [the Cheka] in Which in 1919, V.I. Lenin Repeatedly Visited F.E. Dzerzhinsky

But that building at No. 11 here on Google maps is not the same building that Pavlensky set fire to. 

2016-03-30 20:21:59

Even so, the Lubyanka main entrance, built in 1898 originally as the All-Russian Insurance Company which can be seen on Google maps from this position is a recognized architectural site. It will be interesting to see how both prosecutors and lawyers address the issue of the actual location and what is in the registry.

2016-03-30 20:21:20

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
US To Boost Military Presence In Eastern Europe As Deterrent To Russian Expansion

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon is planning on a large deployment of forces to the NATO border with Russia in order to deter Russian aggression. The deployment will start in February 2017.

Wall Street journal reports: 

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said the new plan should allay such worries because it would position more of the U.S. Army’s best and most-modern equipment in the area, while rotating in a brigade’s worth of U.S. Army troops.

The new gear includes 250 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin self-propelled howitzers as well as more than 1,700 additional wheeled vehicles and trucks.

Combined with equipment already in Europe, “there will be a division’s worth of stuff to fight if something happens,” Mr. Work told The Wall Street Journal. “If push came to shove, they’d be able to come together as a cohesive unit that has trained together, with all their organic equipment, and fight. That’s a lot better than what we have right now.”

Pentagon Readies More Robust U.S. Military Presence in Eastern Europe

The Pentagon has drawn up plans to position American troops, tanks and other armored vehicles full time along NATO's eastern borders to deter Russian aggression, in what would be the first such deployment since the end of the Cold War.

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Mar 30, 2016 20:05 (GMT)

Many analysts believe such a deployment is not only necessary, but overdue. Since Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, Russian aircraft, naval vessels, and even agents have not only threatened NATO borders but crossed them.

In a new comprehensive report I look at the history of global stability since World War II, and I argue that institutions like NATO that have prevented widescale war since 1945 are weakener than they have ever been and — worse — if that threat is not addressed, global security could indeed break down. One reason for this — the lack of NATO presence in Eastern Europe and the lack of support for the members of the NATO alliance that are in the most precarious positions:

An assessment by the Rand think tank suggests that if Russia were to involve the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) there are not enough NATO troops to stop it from reaching the capitals of those countries. NATO would lose the war within 36 hours. This follows NATO’s own internal assessments in 2014 and 2015 that a much greater NATO presence is required in the Baltics and in Poland, and the defense spending of NATO allies besides the US needs to be increased. Putin, for his part,appears to believe this as well, if Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is to be believed. This threat has not gone away, either. As a reader points out, last month Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski urged his NATO colleagues to build up a military presence in Eastern Europe since Russia has violated a key treaty – the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security – which was designed to avoid the militarization of the border between NATO and Russia. Waszczykowski argued that the treaty discriminates against the easternmost NATO allies that are most in danger, something which Russia is already exploiting.

Imagine this scenario: Russia, claiming it is protecting ethnic Russians, or perhaps its own security interests, invades part or all of any of the four countries mentioned here. Without enough troops, armor, or airplanes to stop the invasion, Russia could conquer this territory with ease. Having then lost a significant amount of ground to the Russian military, NATO would then be forced to make a difficult choice – on one hand it could honor its NATO obligations and engage in all out war, which could spark a nuclear war, in order to regain lightly populated, distant, and strategically unimportant territory in Eastern Europe. On the other it could do nothing, effectively signalling that the NATO alliance is meaningless and imperial powers are free to invade wherever they want. In this scenario, the thing that has helped secure geopolitical stability for two generations will become an albatross around our necks, and the words “why would we go to war for Ukraine” will ring through the history books as a tremendous folly.

Read the entire report here:

James Miller
Russia Receives Record $56 Billion in Weapons Orders After ‘Arms Expo’ in Syria Campaign
President Vladimir Putin announced at this year’s first meeting of the Commission on Military Technical Cooperation with Foreign Governments in Nizhny Novgorod that Russia had sold $14.5 billion in arms last year which “enabled Russia to keep second place” in weapons production, reported.
Putin made no secret of the advantages of Russia’s military operation in Syria and the centrality of Russia’s arms industry (translation by The Interpreter):

“I will note that against the backdrop of a complicated international situation and economic challenges, domestic arms producers have really maintained their brand. The defense and industrial complex plants turn out quality production which is a worthy competitor in international markets. The capacity of our vehicles and armaments was demonstrated in a combat setting in the course of the battle with the terrorist threat.”

Some analysts pointed out that while Russia didn’t bomb ISIS much of the time and pursued its agenda of keeping Syrian President al-Bashar Assad in power and his armed opposition enemies at bay, the Kremlin’s bombing campaign has been like an “arms expo.”
Putin said Russia now had a record $56 billion in orders, mainly from its traditional partners such as India and Iraq, by contrast with $26 billion last year.  Other customers besides Russia’s neighbors from the former Soviet Union are Egypt, Vietnam and “new markets” in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East,” he said.
The Nizhny Novgorod region, where slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov once served as governor, was known as a center of Soviet arms production and was previously closed to foreigners. 

According to a Kommersant source, more attention will be devoted to Algeria this year as it is prepared to purchase Su-32 bombers and the Antei-2500 anti-aircraft system. Algeria already bought $800 million in arms, including six Mi-26T2 helicopters, Pantsir-S1s, T-90SA tanks and also modernized its BMP-2Ms.

Algeria waged a war of liberation from France from 1954 to 1962 and a fierce civil war with the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from 1991-1997 where the highest number of journalists in the world were killed (70). It continues to wage war against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Russia will also be filling contracts with Egypt and China.

Kommersant’s sources in the Commission on Military Technical Cooperation with Foreign Governments described $4 billion in sales to India including 12 Su-30MKI fighters, 23 Mi-17V-5s; airplane motors for the Al-31FP and RD-33 and also modernization of the diesel-electric 877 Sindhukitri submarines, six Ka-31 helicopters and others.
Contracts of more than $1 billion were made with Iraq in 2013 and now have been delivered including Mi-35M, Mi-28NE and Mi-171Sh helicopters; Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems; TOS-1 thermobaric missile systems; and T-72B tanks. Vietnam has received $1 billion in deliveries including two 06361 Varshavyanka diesel-electric submarines, four Su-30MK2 fighters and anti-aircraft systems. 

This year, China only bought a batch of Ka-32 helicopters and airplane motors.

But Egypt signed a major $5 billion contract with Russia including MiG-29ms, the anti-aircraft systems Buk-M2E and Antei-2500 and also 46 Ka-52 helicopters which are to be delivered this year. Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power in 2014 following massive democracy protests after the military crushed the elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and subsequently cracked down on both Islamists and liberals with hundreds killed and thousands jailed.

The former Soviet republics continue to rely on Russia also but sales are sometimes sluggish. Kazakhstan bought 4 Su-30SM fighters which a source called “great success” even if a “small” order of about $500 million — “because it’s real money, and not free deliveries.”

Azerbaijan which remains in conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabkh bought T-90S tanks and BMP-3s as well as Mi-17B-1 helicopters and also signed a contract for 18 TOS-1As (for at least $600 million). Belarus bought 4 Yak-130 training airplanes, although Russia continues to deliver free vehicles to its vital ally on the border of the EU (4 S-300PS anti-aircraft missile systems). Kazakhstan, bordering China got 5 S-300PS and Kyrgyzstan 10 BRT-70m armored personnel transporters.

Sources told Kommersant that Russia has had to cope with severe competition from other arms dealers in the world and the falling incomes of their customers due to the same drop in oil prices that has devastated Russia’s economy. Even so, Moscow was able to make deals like Algeria’s purchase of 40 Mi-28NE helicopters. Algeria also plans to buy Su-32s and will test Su-35s at its own proving grounds and may buy some Antei-2500s.
Russia’s biggest prospects in 2016 come from likely orders from China and India. China has bought Russia’s newest models for two years running such as the S-400 Triumfs ($1.9 billion) and in November 2015 signed a contract for 24 Su-35s for about $2 billion.
Moscow is now in negotiations with New Delhi to supply two 636 submarines and to lease a second nuclear submarine. Talks have resumed with Saudi Arabia regarding S-400s and Iskander-Es although these discussions are described by a source as “difficult with no obvious outcome.”
And of course with the removal of sanctions on Iran, Russia plans to deliver S-300s, although the timetable has slipped several times
Putin also took time during the closed meeting to berate Russia’s arms merchants despite all their successes. France cancelled its contract for the two Mistral ships which was made “on terms extremely disadvantageous for Russia” amounting to a 20% kill fee. Putin also identified “technical problems” with a delivery of BTR-82As to Azerbaijan.
Some of the news from Russia diminishes the value of the “arms expo” in Syria: today a Su-25 crashed during training exercises in Primorya although the pilot reportedly was able to eject safely.
The US leads the world in export of armaments and often is criticized for this fact, although its share of 31% of sales is only slightly larger than Russia’s at 27% — and it’s important to look at which of the countries sell more arms to areas of conflict.
According to Amnesty International, Russia leads the sales of arms in the Middle East and North Africa and is “fueling bloodshed” there, with deals at $3.85 billion, Germany at $105 million and the US at $85 million — although it’s often only the US that gets attention, notably because it has legislative restraints on sales to regimes that commit human rights violations. The US is even blamed for “drawing Russia into the conflict” although before Russia began bombing targets in Syria on September 30, 2015, it had supplied more than $1 billion in weapons to Assad.

Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weapons in 2014, which is why Russia is cultivating it.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick