Russia must already be cunning to circumvent international sanctions and export its main products, especially gas and oil. But the situation becomes even more complicated when it comes to another important export commodity.
It is not always realized, but Russian and Soviet weapons can be found all over the world: the country remains a major manufacturer and exporter of weapons and equipment, from aircraft to submarines, especially on the Asian continent. In fact, Russia has been the main source of weapons for the Southeast Asian countries for the past 20 years, but according to an analysis published by Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based research center, this dominant position has been crumbling since 2014. In that year, the Russian defense sector exported a total of $ 1.2 billion; by 2021, that number had dropped to just $ 89 million.
Ukraine, from partner to aggressive competitor
This situation is mainly due to the conflict with Ukraine, which dates back to 2014, and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. As a result, a first wave of economic sanctions against the country was announced, while all cooperation with Ukraine ceased, according to Ian Storey, author of the study: “The conflict put an end to a long and extensive cooperation between Ukrainian and Russian defense companies, especially in production of engines for surface ships, helicopters and aircraft. “
These restrictions have not necessarily prevented countries in the region from buying from Russia, but supply has fallen as Russian manufacturers face difficulties with financial transactions and access to key technologies and components. Since 2021, China and the United States have overtaken Russia in the race to become the largest arms producer in Southeast Asia, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Beijing and Washington overtake Moscow in Southeast Asia
There are many reasons why Asian countries are turning away from the Russian supplier, as is the case in Vietnam, despite the fact that this country is the Kremlin’s largest buyer in the region. Between 1994 and 2021, Hanoi embarked on a military modernization program that brought in $ 7.4 billion to Russian arms manufacturers. But Vietnam “has suspended its military modernization program due to concerns about Moscow’s ability to carry out the orders, as well as an anti-corruption campaign,” wrote Nguyen The Phuong, a lecturer in the International Relations Faculty at the University of Economics and Finance. in Ho Chi Minh City, in 2021.
Industry under pressure to boost the war
A worsening commercial situation is likely to worsen the Russian arms sector. Indeed, the sector is under pressure to make up for the numerous losses suffered by the Russian army, both in vehicles and ammunition, at a time when it is dependent on foreign suppliers for certain components, such as advanced electronics, which are inevitably affected by the sanctions were affected.
Apart from the fact that this change of priority threatens to reduce international supply, the war in Ukraine is not the best showcase for Russian equipment, which is all too often reduced to a smoking corpse. This could benefit other regional suppliers: “The challenges facing Russia’s defense industry will create market opportunities in Southeast Asia for other countries, including China,” the report said.
The Chinese dragon lurks in the shadows
According to SIPRI data, arms exports from China to Southeast Asia amounted to $ 284 million in 2021, up from $ 53 million in 2020.
This is bad news for Vietnam, which still has territorial disputes with China, but also for Ukraine, which before 2014 and the loss of Crimea were solid in the top 10 global arms exporters, especially Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. But what is left of this industry is now completely focused on national defense, while being one of the priority targets of Russian attacks.