Update on Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa

In early March, I posted a list of Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, more comprehensive information has come out on this topic. Most importantly, Ruslan Pukhov just published a comprehensive overview of Russian arms contracts with North African states in the most recent issue of VPK. Plus the SIPRI databases are back online and can provide some additional information as well. So what follows is a bit of a reprise, but with a significant amount of new information.

Contracts with Libya since 2005 include (prices and year contract concluded listed in parentheses):

  • modernization of Libyan S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs (SA-3 in NATO parlance) to the Pechora-2M level (<$100 million) (2009)
  • purchase of 12 Tor-M2E SAMs (SA-15 in NATO parlance) ($300 million) (2010, though other reports indicate 2008)
  • purchase of an unknown number of Igla-S portable SAMs (SA-24 in NATO parlance) (<$100 million) (2008)
  • modernization of 145 T-72 tanks ($300 million) (2010)
  • purchase of BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicles ($300 million) (not included on latest list)
  • purchase of 6 Yak-130 training aircraft ($120 million) (2010)
  • repair of 12 MiG-23ML fighter jets (<$50 million) (2006)
  • building a factory in Libya to produce AK-103 machine guns under license ($500 million) (2010)
  • purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems (not included on latest list)
  • purchase of 3 Molniya missile boats, with 96 Kh-35 Uran anti-ship missiles ($250 million) (2010)
  • repair and modernization of 2 Koni-class frigates and 3 Nanuchka II-class corvettes ($200 million) (2010)

In addition, various reports indicate that negotiations were fairly advanced on an additional $2 billion deal that was to include:

  • 12-15 Su-35 fighter jets
  • 4 Su-30MK fighter jets
  • Il-76 transport planes
  • Ka-52 helicopters
  • 48 T-90SA tanks
  • Pantsir-S1 self-propelled SAMs
  • 1-2 Kilo submarines

All of these contracts and potential contracts will undoubtedly be canceled now. If Gaddhafi stays in power, UN sanctions will prevent their fulfillment. If he is replaced, the new leaders will most likely seek to review his military procurement strategy — with a likely shift to a more Western-oriented procurement posture.

Known contracts still to be fulfilled with Algeria are even more extensive:

  • purchase of 16 SU-30MKI fighter jets ($1.5 billion)
  • modernization of 250 T-72M tanks (150 already completed) (total value $200 million)
  • purchase of 16 Yak-130 training aircraft (part of $8 billion deal signed in 2006)
  • modernization of one Koni-class frigate and one Nanuchka-class corvette ($100 million)
  • purchase of 3 S-300 air defense systems and 38 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (part of $8 billion deal signed in 2006)

Most of these are leftovers from the big contracts concluded in 2006, with just the fighter jets being a new contract signed in 2010 as a replacement for the canceled deal for MiG-29SMT fighter planes.

Syria is the other major customer for Russia’s military industry. Recent contracts that have yet to be completed include:

  • modernization of 24 MiG-29s to SMT level
  • purchase of 2 MiG-31M interceptors, second-hand from Russian air force
  • purchase of 8 battalions of Buk-M2E missile systems ($1 billion)
  • modernization of S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs to the Pechora-2M level
  • modernization of 200 T-72 tanks to T-72M1M level (part of $500 million contract to modernize 1000 tanks, 800 already completed)
  • purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems (status uncertain)
  • purchase of 36 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (part of 2006 contract, 30 delivered in 2008-10)
  • purchase of 2 K-300 Bastian coastal defense systems

While the recent repression of anti-government protesters in Syria has not yet led to international sanctions or arms embargoes, the political uncertainty that now surrounds the Assad regime must make the Russian suppliers for these contracts very nervous.

Other contracts with potentially vulnerable states in the region include:

  • Yemen: purchase of 100 BTR-80A armored vehicles and 50 120-mm towed mortars ($60 million)
  • Egypt: modernization of 20  S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs to the Pechora-2M level (10 completed)
  • Kuwait: purchase of BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles
  • Kuwait: purchase of 2 Murena assault hovercraft (as payment for Russian debt to Kuwait)
  • Jordan: construction of factory to make Khashim RPGs
  • Lebanon: purchase of 6 Mi-24 helicopters
  • Lebanon: purchase of 31 T-72M1 tanks
  • Lebanon: purchase 36 M-46 130mm towed guns
  • United Arab Emirates: purchase of 50 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (16 delivered) ($800 million). Deal originally made in 2000, first deliveries delayed from 2003 to 2009.

The instability in North Africa and the Middle East is clearly likely to have a potentially quite significant negative impact on Russian arms sales to the region. The leaders of the two largest clients, Libya and Syria, are both currently engaged in fights for their political survival. International sanctions will close the Libyan market to Russian sales for the foreseeable future regardless of the outcome of the ongoing military conflict there. Although chances are that the Assad regime will survive the current wave of protests sweeping through Syria, the use of the army in mass repression may make it more politically difficult for Russia to sell arms to Assad in the future.

Meanwhile, there are few new customers in the region. Algeria has largely turned away from Russian equipment after its bad experience with the MiG-29 purchase. Morocco does not have the money to buy much in the way of advanced equipment. Egypt’s new government is likely to maintain its close relationship with the U.S. military. The Gulf States have traditionally purchased most of their military equipment from the U.S. and Western Europe as well and are unlikely to shift to Russian equipment, since most of them have the money to pay for the most advanced Western items and the political relationships to make such deals happen.

Given this situation, it seems that Russia’s arms exporters will have to focus primarily on Asia and Latin America in the foreseeable future.

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10 thoughts on “Update on Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa

  1. Although chances are that the Assad regime will survive the current wave of protests sweeping through Syria, the use of the army in mass repression may make it more politically difficult for Russia to sell arms to Assad in the future.

    Why? Absent UN declarations, Russia has always been indifferent to HR violations (real or perceived) when it comes to selling arms.

    • I think Russia does take international opinion into account in its arms sales. For example, it delayed and ultimately canceled the S-300 sale to Iran because of US and Israeli opposition. This does not mean that it cares about HR violations, per se, just that if powerful international actors make it clear that further arms sales to Syria are undesirable, it may choose to limit such sales.

      Of course, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Russia would do whatever the US or EU (or Israel) asked it to, just that it would take their positions into account in its cost-benefit calculations for future sales.

  2. “If [Gaddhafi] is replaced, the new leaders will most likely seek to review his military procurement strategy — with a likely shift to a more Western-oriented procurement posture.”

    Since virtually all existing Libyan military hardware is of Russian origin, wouldn’t there be a strong motivation to maintain at least some sort of arms relationship with Russia?

    I don’t disagree that a pro-Western regime probably would start buying more Western hardware at the expense of Russian, but I find it hard to believe that they will disappear as a Russian market entirely. Russians do have a comparative advantage at fixing MiGs and T-72s.

    In fact, given that, as you said, a Gaddhafi victory means being cut off from the Libyan market by UN sanctions, wouldn’t that make a rebel victory (preferably after a long war that keeps oil prices high) be in Russia’s economic interests at the moment?

    • Libya traditionally bought a large amount of military equipment from France and Italy. It still has French anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, fighter planes, and corvettes. It started buying predominantly Russian equipment when it was subject to sanctions for most of the 1990s, but soon after those were ended 5-6 years ago, it concluded a contract to modernize its Mirage planes and was planning to buy other air force equipment from the West as well.

      But you’re right — a new Libyan regime would want to maintain a relationship with Russia for at least the purpose of repair and modernization of existing equipment. But that’s quite different from the vast set of new arms deals with Russia contemplated by Gaddhafi in recent years. And you’re absolutely right about an eventual rebel victory being in Russian economic interests.

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  6. Given this situation, it seems that Russia’s arms exporters will have to focus primarily on Asia and Latin America in the foreseeable future.

    *********************
    Sorry, but I cannot agree with this…

    Countries that can’t afford expensive new Russian stuff can still be sold cheaper upgraded older material that Russia still has in abundance, and military equipment sales don’t have to be one sided they get equipment and hand over cash… lots of these countries might have things that Russia wants or could use so there is plenty of room for negotiations.

    The gift of a few hundred T-62M tanks with a few updates to make them more effective and cheaper to operate doesn’t cost Russia much and the country that receives them might be grateful which will improve business relations.

    It also means that the Russian Army can get rid of a lot of material in storage and perhaps get rid of a calibre of ammo which will have enormous famifications for the logistics… no longer having to store 115mm smoothbore tank ammo, or keep tools and maintainence equipment for it on hand.

    The country that gets the tanks can have a portion of the ammo stores and perhaps you could sell them an ammo making factory or something.

    Even just offering port facilities to Russian naval vessels could get them a steady supply of free older material they might find useful.

    Very simply if Russia does not bother with markets that don’t have a lot of money then they would have to give up the vast majority of its previous clients… and these countries will not be able to afford more expensive western equipment either.

    Russia lost the Warsaw Pact as a market and needs to get new markets to sell their products… both military and otherwise and the best way to open a new market is with free stuff to get them used to dealing with you and using your products… the west certainly looks down on Russian stuff (largely because of ignorance and arrogance) but most of the rest of the world has never seen a Russian TV. This is a huge opportunity for Russia and by ignoring markets because of revolutions… you are only hurting yourself.

    And yes, I realise this thread is a year old…

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