After a sharp drop-off in arms exports since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia is steadily reclaiming its lost market share—and as the Wall Street Journal notes, it is increasingly doing so while courting longtime U.S. customers:
Moscow’s efforts to bounce back have caught the attention of U.S. arms makers, in part because Russia is dealing in some cases with countries such as the U.A.E., Egypt and the Philippines that have long been major buyers of U.S. weapons, though some have also purchased arms from Russia as well. U.S. arms exports rose sharply in 2014 as Russia’s fell, and have since edged down to $9.9 billion last year, according to SIPRI.
“If one of our partners like U.A.E.…starts turning on any given transaction to the Russians, that means the Russians have gained an opportunity—that we no longer have—to build their influence,” said Remy Nathan, vice president of international affairs at the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents U.S. manufacturers.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg picks up on a related trend: Russia is making inroads in Southeast Asia, as it seeks to win new friends and exploit the bad blood between Washington and estranged allies like Thailand and the Philippines. Russian planes have made their way into the Royal Thai Air Force, for example, and the commander-in-chief of Russian land forces just visited Bangkok to deepen military cooperation. And in the Philippines, Russia has rushed to offer arms and naval cooperation in the wake of President Duterte’s abrupt pivot away from the United States.
Of course, not all of Russia’s arms sales are targeted at strained U.S. allies; the Kremlin is also doubling down on faithful buyers like Indonesia, Iran, and Belarus. But the trends do suggest an opportunistic attempt to exploit resentments with Washington for both political and profit-maximizing ends. Where the U.S. cannot fulfill allies’ arms needs—whether because of human rights scruples, political considerations, or burdensome export regulations—Moscow is ideally situated to swoop in.
Russia’s arms clout should not be overstated; Moscow still trails Washington in both quantity and quality of weapons sold. Nonetheless, the WSJ and Bloomberg stories offer another telling data point in how Russia’s foreign policy works. Putin is no genius strategist, but he is adept at seeing and seizing opportunities to enrich his cronies while sticking it to the West. Stepping up arms sales to estranged U.S. allies is a good way to do both.