Russian arms sales to the Middle East and North Africa

I have seen a bit of discussion here and there about how Russian leaders are reluctant to support anti-government protests in the Middle East and North Africa because of fears that similar protests may occur in Russia. While fear of domestic instability is a major aspect of the calculus for Russian politicians on this issue, it’s not the only issue. Russian defense industry stands to lose a great deal of money from military contracts should some of the existing regimes collapse. Libya,  Algeria and Syria are particularly important customers for Russia, while there are smaller contracts with Yemen, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

The New York Times reported a couple of days ago that lost opportunity costs from unfulfilled arms contracts with Libya amount to $4 billion, while total losses in the region if other regimes fall could add up to $10 billion, which is equivalent to the total value of Russia’s military exports in 2010.

The Times report did not list specific export programs, but some information (though incomplete) is readily obtainable from SIPRI and from CAST. SIPRIs databases are currently offline for an update, so the following is based exclusively on the tables in CAST’s Eksport Vooruzheniia journal from November 2010.

Known contracts with Libya include (prices listed where available):

  • modernization of Libyan S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs (SA-3 in NATO parlance) to the Pechora-2M level
  • modernization of 145 T-72 tanks
  • purchase of BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicles ($300 million)
  • purchase of 6 Yak-130 training aircraft ($90 million)
  • building a factory in Libya to produce AK-103 machine guns under license ($600 million)
  • purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems
  • purchase of Molnia missile boat

Known contracts with Algeria are even more extensive:

  • purchase of 16 SU-30MKI fighter jets ($1 billion)
  • modernization of 250 T-72M tanks (150 already completed) (total value $200 million)
  • purchase of at least 10 Yak-130 training aircraft
  • 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)

Other contracts with potentially vulnerable states in the region include:

  • Syria: MiG-29 modernization
  • Syria: purchase of 8 battalions of Buk-M2E missile systems ($1 billion)
  • Syria: modernization of S-125 Pechora-2 SAMs to the Pechora-2M level
  • Syria: modernization of 200 T-72 tanks to T-72M1M level (part of $500 million contract to modernize 1000 tanks, 800 already completed)
  • Syria: purchase of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems
  • Syria: purchase of 30 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems (part of 2006 contract)
  • 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
  • Kuwait: purchase of BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles
  • Jordan: construction of factory to make Khashim RPGs
  • Lebanon: purchase of Mi-24 helicopters

Obviously, Russia is not unique in this regard. I’m sure that a list of U.S. arms deals with vulnerable Middle Eastern states would be much longer. (And notice the contortions that U.S. leaders have gone through to act like they’re supporting popular protests while maintaining channels of communication with friendly regimes in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, etc.) So please don’t take this post as a condemnation of Russian actions. I’m just trying to spell out some of the specifics behind the top-line numbers.

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

    1. Having been in Russia for a couple of weeks at the end of last month, I didn’t sense that this was a major factor in the Russian government’s pronounced unease about events in North Africa and the Middle East. (By all indications, the unease stemmed from the inspiration that some in Russia potentially could have drawn from these events.) For one thing, the bulk of Russian arms sales in recent years have gone to South Asia (India, Burma), East Asia (Vietnam, Malaysia, China), and Venezuela. Of North African countries, only Algeria has concluded any significant new deal with Russia in recent years. Even though the potential loss of some sales to Libya would be unwelcome, I don’t recall that any Russian official I spoke to brought up the matter. By contrast, they had plenty to say about why they didn’t like governments to fall in the face of mass unrest. Just as Putin lauded Karimov after the Andijon massacre in 2005, I’m sure that leaders in the Kremlin and Russian White House now are delighted by Qaddafi’s ruthless counterattack.

    2. I also think that Russia has some energy interests in Libya. Since 2009, I believe that Gazprom and other Russian energy firms have been expanding into Libya.

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