Russia in the Global Arms Market

Stagnation in a Changing Market Landscape

To say that Russia is a major player in the global defense market is to make a substantial understatement. Various estimates are available on the size of Russian arms exports —but all leading market monitors agree that Russia is currently the world’s second-largest arms supplier after the United States. Arms exports are important to Russia not just economically, but also politically and militarily. Leaving aside the question of whether they are effective to these goals, Russia sees arms exports as a tool of influence and as a mark of prestige. Not surprisingly, then, the rapid growth of Russian defense exports in the 2000s has been highlighted as a major achievement of the Putin era by state-owned and pro-government Russian media. Until recently, this upbeat pictures was backed by the numbers. For example, Russian arms exports indeed skyrocketed by 440 percent, from $3.4 billion in 1999 (when Vladimir Putin became acting prime minister) to a peak of $15.7 billion in 2013. In recent years, however, that growth first slowed, and then stalled completely. This paper explains why arms exports grew so rapidly in the 2000s and early 2010s and why they are now stagnating. In doing this, it provides an overview of the current dynamics of Russian arms exports and offers an outlook for the coming years.

Photo Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

Sergey Denisentsev

Visiting Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program