Central Asian Military and Security Forces: Assessing the Impact of Foreign Assistance

The next PONARS Eurasia policy conference is happening next Monday and Tuesday. Here is my policy memo for that conference, based on my forthcoming report on this topic for SIPRI and OSI. For more information about the conference, including the full program, visit the PONARS Eurasia website.

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As the drawdown of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan has accelerated in preparation for the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, media attention has come to focus on the extent to which equipment being withdrawn from the region will be left behind for Central Asian states to use. At the same time, recent extensions of Russian military base agreements in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have underlined Russia’s own provision of military equipment and other forms of security assistance to the region. Central Asia has been receiving external military assistance since the mid-1990s, and the amount of such assistance has grown substantially in the last decade due to a combination of U.S. interest in using the region to provide access to Afghanistan and the Russian desire to ensure its continued predominance in regional security affairs.

Local leaders sense that the heightened interest in the region by foreign powers may fade once the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan is complete. They are therefore using the current situation to highlight the potential threats to the region and how these might affect the rest of the world. The goal is to ensure that outside powers provide the maximum possible amount of assistance in the short term, before their focus shifts to other parts of the world. This memo examines the extent of external support for military and security forces in Central Asia and analyzes the possible effects of such support on the security situation in the region. Since the vast majority of military assistance to the region comes from Russia and the United States, I focus on these countries in this memo. Other sources include Turkey, Israel, and several West European states. China, on the other hand, provides very little military assistance to the region.

Russia

Russia has been the primary source for military equipment and training for Central Asian states since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Because the Central Asian states in large part retain Soviet legacy forces, which are stocked with Soviet equipment and still largely follow Soviet doctrine, military personnel are familiar with Russian equipment and with Russian training methods. However, Russia does not have a real strategy in its military assistance policy toward the region beyond seeking to keep the Central Asian states in its orbit while making sure that U.S. and NATO forces leave the region after the completion of the operation in Afghanistan. As one Russian interlocutor put it recently, “If the price of stability in Central Asia is [continued] U.S. presence, that price is too high for Russia.” To ensure that the situation does not deteriorate to the point where that choice has to be made, Russia has been shoring up Central Asian regimes as best it can, through efforts to modernize their military forces and security services to improve their capabilities both to take on externally-based insurgents and to suppress potential domestic revolts. By providing assistance, Moscow has also sought to ensure that the region’s governments remain relatively pliable. The entire policy was described by one Moscow observer as “playing preemptive defense.”

Russian military assistance to the weaker Central Asian states can be described as a quid pro quo arrangement, whereby Russia provides political and military support for ruling regimes in exchange for basing rights and a certain level of acquiescence to Russian foreign policy priorities in the region. Kyrgyzstan provides the clearest case of this type of arrangement, with the institutionalization of a major Russian military presence in the country coming in conjunction with Russian expressions of support for the government of President Almazbek Atambaev. Tajikistan’s reluctance to give final approval to its recent military base agreement with Russia may be related to Russia’s refusal to provide guarantees of continued support for President Emomali Rahmon’s rule. Moscow has been highlighting the potential danger of instability spreading from Afghanistan to Central Asia as a means of ensuring that local states feel the need to maintain close ties with Russian security forces. At the same time, Central Asian leaders use Russian foreign policy priorities to meet their own goals, including the development of more capable military and security forces.

There is less to Russian military assistance than meets the eye, however. Both Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have made numerous promises of assistance and expanded cooperation to Central Asian states. Only some of these promises have been met. In part, Russian military assistance is constrained by the limited capacity of the Russian defense industry. Exports to Central Asia remain the lowest priority for Russian defense corporations, behind both domestic military procurement requirements and exports to countries that pay full price for weapons and equipment. Most Central Asian states pay the lower prices charged on the Russian domestic market for equipment, while repercussions to the Russian defense industry for delays in the fulfillment of export contracts are not as serious as when dealing with the Russian Ministry of Defense. As a result, most military equipment provided to Central Asia consists of older used systems, primarily armored vehicles and helicopters, that are being replaced by more modern weapons and are therefore no longer needed by the Russian military.

United States

For much of the last decade, assuring continued access for transferring supplies and personnel to Afghanistan has been the highest priority for the United States in Central Asia. Other goals, including counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and democracy promotion, have been pursued but only rarely have they been allowed to infringe on the priority of the Afghanistan mission. In a period of reduced budgets and limited resources, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will inevitably result in a decreased emphasis on all forms of assistance to Central Asia. The region will once again become a relatively low priority for the U.S. Department of Defense. Security assistance budgets for states in the region have already been cut in recent years and are likely to be cut further in years to come.

Central Asian leaders sense that the withdrawal period presents a final opportunity to receive significant amounts of military assistance from the United States. Several Central Asian states have developed so-called wish lists of military equipment that they would like to receive from the United States and its NATO allies through the donation of equipment left behind as NATO forces leave Afghanistan. The countries that are most interested in such equipment include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have the financial wherewithal to buy new equipment and are less interested in donations of used armaments.

To date, the U.S. government has not agreed to transfer any excess defense equipment from Afghanistan to Central Asian states. Most equipment is currently being returned to the United States or scrapped onsite in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it seems likely that at least some EDA equipment will be transferred to Central Asian states at some point in the future. The extent of the transfers will depend on whether the United States signs a bilateral status of forces agreement with Afghanistan. The terms of this agreement will determine the force posture in the region, which will in turn affect how much equipment will need to be removed from Afghanistan and how quickly. In any case, the equipment is not likely to include major weapons systems or even small arms. More likely, it will be limited to items such as night-vision goggles, trucks, mine detection equipment, or reconnaissance UAVs to be used for border surveillance.

The timing of these donations reduces the likelihood that they will be provided as a quid pro quo for Central Asian states’ permission to allow the reverse transit of personnel and equipment leaving Afghanistan. At this point, agreements on transit have all been signed and the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan is well under way. Since no public announcements of equipment donations have been made so far, it appears that the two processes have been working in parallel, with limited linkage. It is of course possible that promises of assistance have been made secretly and will be announced at a later date. However, even if such announcements are made in the coming months, the security consequences of such donations will be limited.

Much of the discussion about the extent of such assistance has overstated both the amount and significance of equipment likely to be provided and the potential impact of such assistance on regional security. Legally, the U.S. military is obligated to declare equipment to be “excess” before it can be donated to other states. Excess Defense Articles (EDA) then cannot be replaced with similar but new equipment back in the United States. This means that the EDA process cannot be used to avoid the expense of shipping equipment out of Afghanistan if the unit might still need such equipment in the future. Furthermore, states receiving EDA equipment would be responsible for its shipment from Afghanistan to their territory. Most Central Asian states would not be able to afford the cost of transferring and maintaining major weapons systems, even should the United States agree to such a transfer.

Impact on Regional Security

As currently constituted, the military forces of Central Asian states are fairly limited in their capabilities. Local leaders have devoted more effort and resources to developing their internal security forces, since they see these forces as far more necessary for the survival of their regimes. Despite years of largely half-hearted reform efforts, Central Asian states’ armed forces remain primarily based on Soviet-era equipment and doctrine. Efforts at modernization have progressed to some extent but have been limited in most states by a lack of financing (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan) or a limited understanding of modern military strategy (Turkmenistan). Only Kazakhstan has begun to make some progress in transforming its military into a more modern force, and even there changes have been limited by continued adherence to Soviet legacy ideas.

Despite the extensive publicity generated by the deals for Russian military assistance in exchange for basing rights in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the possibility that the United States may be willing to donate excess military equipment as it departs from Afghanistan, the reality is that this assistance will at best have a modest impact on these states’ military capabilities. Both Russia and the United States are likely to provide primarily non-lethal equipment. Given the limitations of the Russian defense industry, Russian assistance will consist primarily of older armaments and equipment that are being retired from the Russian armed forces. The United States will also donate used equipment that may have a limited lifespan. Furthermore, local military personnel are less familiar with Western military equipment, limiting its usefulness unless the receiving countries contract for training in its use.

External military assistance is unlikely to have much of an impact on regional security and stability, simply because none of the states in the region are receiving or are planning to receive in the future enough external support to shift regional power dynamics appreciably. The greater danger is in small arms and basic military equipment being provided to internal security agencies, either directly by donor states or through transfers from the relevant military forces. As seen in past events in Andijan, Osh, and Zhanaozen, relatively basic equipment can be used with great effect against domestic opponents, who are at most lightly armed and usually completely unarmed. The use of foreign equipment against unarmed domestic opponents has the potential to be highly embarrassing for the donor states, as shown by the extensive attention paid to the provenance of tear gas canisters used against protesters in Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Defense have highlighted that they do not provide lethal military equipment to internal security forces. They have also noted that any transfers of equipment provided by the United States from local armed forces to internal security services would be a violation of various agreements that could lead to a suspension of future assistance. The extent to which such safeguards would prove effective in a situation where local leaders feel that regime survival is at stake remains unclear.

U.S. officials argue that U.S. training has had a positive impact on the behavior of units in internal conflict situations. They say that units that had received such training are less likely to use violent means to disperse unarmed protesters. According to Defense Department sources, during the 2010 events in Kyrgyzstan, U.S.-trained units returned to their barracks rather than participate in the violence. Similarly, during the May 2013 unrest in Kumtor, Kyrgyzstani special forces units fell out of communications, possibly in order to avoid shooting their own civilians. While it is impossible to independently confirm the extent to which such training has had a positive impact on the behavior of special forces, Central Asian armed forces do receive training in non-violent crowd control and are taught international human rights standards by U.S. military trainers.

At the same time, there is little doubt that local authorities would be able to find units from the military or security forces that would be willing to use violence against regime opponents should the future of the regime be at stake. The success of the two uprisings in Kyrgyzstan had more to do with the unwillingness of key officials in the regime to order the use of force on a large scale than with the refusal of units to follow such orders. Furthermore, Russia is unlikely to have problems with transferring equipment to security services or to put conditions on the transfer of such equipment to security services from the armed forces.

External military assistance to Central Asian states is thus unlikely to have a serious negative impact on regional stability and security. With the end of the NATO operation in Afghanistan, the region’s decade-long position of prominence on the international arena is likely to fade. Instead the states of the region will increasingly be left to their own devices, with internal instability the most serious threat. External military assistance will be limited and will do little to strengthen local armed forces.

Odessa Network: a new report on Russian arms transfer networks

I would like to highlight a truly excellent report that came out this month on shipborne Russian international arms transfers. The Odessa Network details the network of Ukraine-based companies that are responsible for transporting the bulk of Russian and Ukrainian weapons deliveries to foreign clients. These are not companies are working on behave of rogue individuals, but rather have contracts with each country’s official arms exporting agency. The report details 40+ shipments over the last decades to countries such as Venezuela, Sudan, Vietnam, Angola, Syria, China and several others. There is a particularly enlightening case study that makes an effort to document recent shipments to Syria by ships connected to participants in the network. The authors argue that their approach can be used for detecting future arms shipments to countries such as Syria, where the exporting states are looking to avoid public exposure.

The study finds that the bulk of the shipments originate in the Ukrainian port of Oktyabrsk, located near Mykolaiv. This port was the main starting point for Soviet arms exports and appears to have continued its role in the post-Soviet period. The authors trace the connections between key companies, mostly based in Odessa, that are involved in arms shipments and Russian and Ukrainian government officials. They also trace links between these companies and EU shipping companies that provide specialized services for transporting cargoes that are outside the capabilities of the Ukrainian companies. Financial services and money laundering operations for the network appear to be run by Latvian banks.

As the authors themselves note, such a report cannot provide a complete picture, as some cargoes are shipped by air while neighboring countries (especially in the FSU) receive their arms by truck or rail, rather than ship. Nevertheless, the report introduces a wealth of detail on the process through which the bulk of Russian arms are shipped to customers around the world.

The one area where I think the report could be stronger is in the political conclusions it draws. One of the main questions I had from the start was “why Ukraine?” or “why not Russia?” In other words, why does the Russian government choose to depend on Ukrainian channels for shipping such sensitive cargo. The report points to the advantageous location of Oktyabrsk vis-a-vis St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, but this does not explain why Russian Black Sea ports, such as Novorossiisk, are not used for such shipments. Similarly, even if Oktyabrsk needed to be the port of origin, why depend on a network of firms based in Odessa, rather than on a homegrown Russian network? A network based in Russia could still ship from Oktyabrsk, after all. Finally, given the tight government control over such sensitive cargo as arms shipments, it seems odd that the relatively conflictual relations between Russia and Ukraine during the Yushchenko presidency did not lead to any disruptions of the network. I realize that answers to these questions would be more speculative than data-driven, but they would be highly interesting for Russia-watchers interested in regional political relationships and their implications.

 

New report on Russian interests in Syria, part 2: Russian arms sales

I’ve covered Russian arms exports to Syria on this blog before, but the CAST report has some useful new information on this topic. Barabanov and Aliev note that Russian arms exports to Syria were very limited until the restructuring of Soviet-era Syrian debt to Russia in 2005.  Shortly after that, the two countries signed a series of arms contracts with a total value of 4.5 billion dollars. While these contracts were not publicized, available information indicates that they included the following:

  • 8 MiG-31E interceptors. This contract was annulled in 2009, most likely because of Israeli objections. No aircraft were ever transferred.
  • 12 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets, with an option for an additional 12. The first set of aircraft, and possibly all 12, are to be transferred towards the end of this year. No information is available on the option for an additional 12 aircraft.
  • 8 battalions of Buk-M2E missile systems (total value $1 billion). Four were shipped in 2010-11, with the rest to be transferred by 2013.
  • 12  battalions of S-125-2M Pechora-2M SAMs ($200 million). Four were shipped in 2011, and another four were shipped on the MV Alaed, which was recently forced to return to Russia after its insurance was cancelled.
  • 36 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems ($700 million). According to the CAST report, only 12 have been delivered so far. SIPRI, on the other hand, believes that all 36 have been delivered.
  • 2 K-300-P Bastion coastal defense systems, armed with 36 Yakhont anti-ship missiles ($250 million). Contract completed in 2011.
  • an unknown number of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems. Most likely, none have been delivered to date.
  • an unstated number of Igla-S surface to air missiles (200 according to SIPRI). Contract completed in 2010.
  • modernization of 1000 T-72 tanks to T-72M1M level ($1 billion). Little work completed to date.

There was another set of contracts completed in 2007-08 to modernize Syria’s air force. This included the following:

  • 15 Su-24MK bombers. Work began in 2010. These are to be armed with Kh-31A anti-ship missiles, 87 of which were produced through 2010.
  • unknown number of MiG-29 fighters to SM level. (24 according to a previous CAST report). First four completed in 2011.
  • unknown number of MiG-23 fighters to MLD level. Seven completed through 2011.
  • 20 Mi-25 combat helicopters. 17 delivered so far. Last three were supposed to be delivered on the MV Alaed earlier this month.
  • 2 Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopters. Contract completed.

The most recent contract was completed in December 2011, for 36 Yak-130 trainer aircraft ($550 million). However, this contract has not yet been approved by the Russian government.

To summarize, Russia has completed about $5.5 billion worth of military contracts with Syria since 2006, primarily for air force and air defense modernization. The report notes that despite prompt payment by the Syrian side, fulfillment of many of the contracts was dragged out (and in the case of the MiG-31s, cancelled) by the Russian government. So far, Syria has received only $1 billion worth of equipment from these contracts.

The authors argue that Russia has been very cautious in selling arms to Syria, making sure that Western powers and especially Israel did not object to the equipment being provided. In particular, Russia has refused to sell Iskander ballistic missile systems and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria. In other words, the report argues that Russia has valued its relationship with Western states and Israel more than the financial and political gains from selling more weapons to Syria. Furthermore, even if Assad’s government survives, it will not be able to afford to pay for more Russian weapons for the foreseeable future, limiting its role as a customer for the Russian defense industry.

Syria, Russia, the US, and the Implications of those Helicopters…

Josh Tucker from The Monkey Cage asked me to comment on the Russian helicopters supposedly heading to Syria. Here’s what I wrote:

Yesterday’s statement by Hillary Clinton that Russia is supplying Syria with attack helicopters has stirred up a great deal of controversy, providing more ammunition (so to speak) to US domestic opponents of the Obama administration’s policy of normalization of relations with Russia. This policy has already been damaged by Russian actions against domestic political protests, by serious disagreements over missile defense, and by the two countries’ diametrically opposed positions on the ongoing conflict in Syria. In this post, I want to quickly address the specific question of Russian arms exports to Syria and then turn to the political impact of this most recent contretemps.

I have written before on Russian arms sales to Syria. Most of the recent contracts in this sphere have involved missiles of various kinds, as well as the modernization of tanks and fighter aircraft. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia has not sold any helicopters to Syria since the Soviet days. Although this is not evident from the SIPRI data, Russian sources indicate that a contract was concluded in 2005 for Russia to modernize Syria’s Soviet-made Mi-17 helicopters. Russian media is speculating that US intelligence confused the return shipment of Syria’s own (newly modernized) helicopters for brand new helicopters that have been sold to Syria.

While I don’t have the information to come down definitively on one side or another of this debate, I would just say that it is generally very difficult for Russian arms exporters to conclude a major contract of this type in complete secrecy. It also takes time to make the helicopters, so any such contract would have had to have been concluded at least a year or two ago, when there would have been no need for secrecy. There is I suppose some possibility that Russia is supplying Syria with helicopters from its own inventory, rather than newly built ones. But that seems relatively unlikely given the relative scarcity of good equipment in the Russian military after years of low procurement. So I would say that the most likely scenario is in fact that these helicopters are in fact modernized Syrian Mi-17s, rather than new ones secretly sold to Syria.

Regardless of the exact provenance of these helicopters, recent events and the rhetoric on both sides show that the conflict is rapidly heading in the direction of a civil war. Moreover, this would be a civil war with echoes of the proxy civil wars of the Cold War days, with Russia potentially arming the Assad regime while Western countries (and their Gulf State allies) arm the rebels. Such wars were fairly ubiquitous in the 1970s and 1980s, but have largely faded from our memory since the end of communism. At the time, both superpowers were able to compartmentalize their relations in such a way as to continue negotiations on critical issues like arms control while fighting these proxy wars and engaging in rhetorical battles over the relative virtues of communism, capitalism, Western democracy and people’s democracy. It may be that leaders on both sides will soon need to relearn those compartmentalization skills so they can continue to cooperate on issues that are important for both sides (Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy, dealing with the rise of China) even as they take opposite sides in a likely civil war in Syria and engage in increasingly heated rhetoric about repression of grassroots protests (or, from the Putin government’s point of view—Western efforts to foment regime change) in Russia.

UPDATE: Actually, the helicopters are modernized Mi-24s. Not sure whether the Russian media reports were mistaken and the mid-2000s modernization contract was for Mi-24s rather than Mi-17s or if there were two separate contracts.

How much of a threat to NATO is the Mistral sale?

I’ve written a lot of posts now trying to explain why Russia sought to purchase the Mistral from France and why I do not believe that the purchase presents a threat to a) Georgia, b) the Baltic states, c) European security, or d) NATO cohesion. Yet various folks keep writing the same old thing regardless of the evidence arrayed against their arguments. The newest entry is Vlad Socor’s latest piece, entitled “France’s Sale of the Mistral to Russia: The Challenge to NATO’s Transatlantic Partners,” which arrived by email today from the Jamestown Foundation. I haven’t found a version online as of yet, but if I find one in the next day or two, I’ll provide a link. (See the update at the bottom of the article for links to most of the content)

Socor argues that despite Russian leaders repeated statements that the ships will be based in the Pacific Fleet, they will actually be placed in the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, where they will be used to threaten the Baltic states and Georgia as part of a potential simultaneous attack from land and sea.

Furthermore, he argues that these ships are primarily power projection platforms. He believes Admiral Vysotsky’s rhetorical statement that ““In the conflict in August [2008], a ship like that would have allowed the Black Sea Fleet to accomplish its mission in 40 minutes, not 26 hours which is how long it took us [to land the troops ashore].” He goes on to argue that Mistral ships would have allowed the Russian military to open a second front in Georgia in 2008, moving in from the west while the main army attacked from the east.

In the final section, Socor discusses the challenge this deal poses to NATO cohesion. He argues that mercantilist considerations have driven France (as well as other European countries that have recently sold arms to Russia) to trample allied solidarity. In other words, France, Germany and Italy have put the security of their eastern allies at risk for the sake of the profits of their arms manufacturers.

Given that I have already addressed these issues here, and don’t have any new arguments to offer, I thought I would give the floor to someone who has spent the last year studying the Mistral deal and has written what may be the definitive work on the subject.

LCDR Patrick Baker recently completed a Master’s Thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School entitled, “A Study of the Russian Acquisition of the French Mistral Amphibious Assault Warships.” He graciously agreed to respond with his thoughts on Vlad Socor’s article. Please note that his views represent his own personal opinions and not those of the U.S. Navy or the Naval Postgraduate School.

On why Russia sought to buy the Mistral:

As I said in my thesis, I think that the real reason behind the Mistrals is the technologies that Russia can get from France.  Specifically the command and control systems, and also, I think as important, are the shipbuilding technologies.  As I argued in my thesis, no shipyard in Russia today can build modular warships.  And all their shipyards are full of orders now anyway (besides Baltiysky Zavod, which is bankrupt).  To modify a shipyard for the Mistral would mean fewer other ships for the Russian navy.  As STX Europe is going to build Russia a new shipyard on Kotlin Island, this gives the Admiralty Shipyards a brand new facility to build not only warships but also commercial ships.

A helicopter carrier also allows the Russian Navy to ask for new helicopters to equip its new ships with, providing business for Kamov.  Besides the attack helicopters, there has been little in the news about any significant upgrades to the Russian Naval infantry.  As of the 2011 Military Balance, Russia has maximum 16 landing craft that could even fit in a Mistral, and only 8 new ones.  Moreover, no modern hovercrafts are in development that I have seen.

The Mistral I think is the perfect example of getting a system first, then figuring out the missions for the ships.  I think the Russians see the Mistrals as a means to the end (naval modernization), not the end themselves.  True the Mistrals can fulfill many roles, including some of the ones Socor talks about, but that was not the driving force behind the sale.  If Russia really wanted just the capability, I do not think the contract negotiations would have taken so long (and continue to drag on), specifically on the issues of technology transfer.

On the potential threat posed by these ships to Georgia and the Baltic states:

I do not accept that the Russian failure to open a second front in Georgia was the driving force.  As you have pointed out, the Mistralis no faster than Russia’s existing Alligators and Ropuchas, so the ships would not have gotten to Georgia any faster.  A better argument would have been a Mistral would have allowed for better close air support from attack helicopters from the coast.  Still while a nice benefit from having the ship, but not the main reason for acquiring the ships.

The other part behind the Mistral is about image and prestige.  But not against Georgia and the Baltics.  People seem to forget that Russia today has 4 Ropuchas sitting in Kaliningrad, which could transport 760 troops and 40 MBT themselves.  In the Black Sea, Russia has 3 Alligators and 4 Ropuchas. The Mistral adds to the capability of the Russian Navy, but in terms of troop lift, it is not a game changer.  The only new capability, and it is a significant one, is the aviation aspect of the Mistral.  But Russia is not without airfields in both Georgia and around the Baltics.

Who I think Russia is worried about is China.  That is why the ships have been announced to go to the Pacific first.  Not against the Japanese – and yes Socor makes this point, but the Japanese are not the threat – it is just convenient and risk free to blame the Japanese, because Russia knows Japan is not going to invade the Kuril Islands.  Rather Russia, in my opinion does not want to appear weak, or abandoning the Pacific to the Chinese.  Russia cannot say that it is bulking up its Pacific Fleet against the Chinese publicly though.  Putting two large warships is a very visible statement of Russian interest in the Far East.  Granted there is little significant naval combat power, but that is not the point.  The Mistrals also work well as a forward command post in the Far East, where ground command stations are few and far between.  This Russian interest in the Far East is evident in other actions, such as the movement of the Marshal Ustinov from the Northern Fleet to Pacific Fleet after her refit, the Yuri Dolgorukiy to Petropavlosk and if the Admiral Nakimov ever is refurbished, the Russian have announced plans to put her in the Far East.

I think the Russians are more interested in having a LHD style ship that can cruise the globe (without tugs following her) implying that they are still a great power.  I also think they want the PR benefit of being able to have a ship to participate in humanitarian operations.  I know they have sent rescue teams and assistance in the past, but the image of a Russian ship helping is a powerful one, as the US has seen.  Or for evacuation of Russian citizens – being able to evacuated civilians quickly on one ship is important.  Look at Libya, the French used the Mistral herself, while the Russia had to hire a ferry and flew jets in to evacuate citizens.  What if the airport had been closed?

On how the Mistral’s capabilities might be used:

I think that Socor does make some valid points about how the capabilities of the Mistral could be used.  And he is correct, it is something that the US and NATO will have to account for.  I just don’t think it was the Russians primary reason, more of a side benefit.  If they were so eager for an amphibious capability, why did they not honestly evaluate the other LHDs on the market, ensuring they would get the best package, vice choosing the Mistral from day one?  Again, it was because they get the shipbuilding and command and control technologies.  In addition, there still remain some serious obstacles.  Now that they get the command and control technologies, how do they integrate NATO style systems with Russian ones?  How easy will it be to integrate Russian weapon systems with French radar systems?  Besides the significant modifications for arctic operations, there are still some sizeable design changes, such as the raising of the hanger deck.  It will be interesting to see what the final design is.

My final take is that there was a myriad of reasons the Russians wanted the Mistral.  There is no one smoking gun. Technology, command and control and image I think were the top ones, not a desire to kick in the door somewhere.  Can they do that…maybe.  Nevertheless, a LHD also gives them a ship that is multi-mission, something they will actually use.   If they built an anti-carrier destroyer again, it may be a great platform, but realistically, it is not as likely to be employed as much as a LHD is these days.  Therefore, there may not be a sinister reason behind the purchase, just a realization of with limited resources, what will actually have the most benefit.  In addition, with the Admiral Kuznetsov going into an announced refit until 2017 (if it happens on time) the Russians have really only one capital ship (Peter the Great) to signify nation interest.  The Mistrals could give them something to build a task force around.  Again this is where image comes into play.

On the impact of the sale on NATO cohesion:

Therefore, will NATO and the US have to pay attention to these ships – yes…can Russia use these ships to intimidate weak smaller nations – yes….was that the Russian primary intention – no.  I think the valid point that Socor makes is the issues this type of sale causes within NATO.  The lack of trust between countries is something that has to be improved.  Perhaps more significant behind the scenes consultations would help (basically so countries aren’t finding out about these things via the newspapers).  But the Baltics have to be realistic as well, but the image of France not respecting other allies’ inputs is what has to be overcome.

I’m very much in agreement with LCDR Baker’s analysis. I would just expand briefly on the final point. It seems to me that the key task for countries such as France, Germany and Italy is to work to convince NATO’s eastern members that Russia does not present a military threat to them. Russian leaders could do a great deal to help this effort by changing some of their policies toward the region, and especially their rhetoric — which is frequently much more belligerent than their policies. The best way to improve European security is to increase integration with Russia, not to maintain old dividing lines that do nothing but promote insecurity on both sides.

UPDATE: Still no sight of an electronic version of Vlad Socor’s article, but LCDR Baker pointed out that most of the content was posted in three recent shorter articles that cover the sale, power projection against Georgia, and NATO reactions.

FURTHER UPDATE (July 12): Thanks to the folks at the Jamestown Foundation for providing the link.

Valdai Club 5: Meeting with a senior defense industry official

On May 25, the Valdai group met with a senior representative of one of the major Russian defense industry corporations. The meeting was conducted entirely under the Chatham House rule, so I can discuss the content of the meeting but cannot name the speaker or the other participants.

For various reasons, I was not able to take detailed notes at the meeting, so in order to provide a complete set of reports on all of the events at the conference, I will quote (with permission) from Richard Weitz, a colleague who also participated in the meeting. His full article discussing this meeting in the context of the overall state of the Russian arms export industry is well worth reading and can be found at the Second Line of Defense blog. Continue reading

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.

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.