Seller's Remorse: The Challenges Facing Russia's Arms Exports
Russia’s role as a major global arms supplier is under threat. This report analyzes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the concomitant Western sanctions have affected its status as one of the top suppliers in the global arms trade. The Russian arms export industry has been declining in its international competitiveness since the early 2010s due to previous packages of Western sanctions aimed at deterring third countries from purchasing Russian weapons, as well as the efforts by China and India to strengthen their domestic arms production. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the subsequent sanctions have aggravated these issues by straining Russia’s defense production capacity, negatively affecting the reputation of Russian arms, and complicating payment options for the Kremlin’s existing customers. Russia is struggling to meet its arms sales commitment to its partners, calling into question its reliability.
While Moscow still retains its competitiveness in areas such as missile and air defense systems, aircraft, armored vehicles, naval systems, and engines, recent trends suggest that Russian arms exports in virtually all of these major weapons categories will decline. Available evidence also signals that Russia’s biggest customers, including India and China, will most likely become less reliant on Russian arms exports due to ongoing import substitution and diversification efforts in these countries, which have been strengthened since 2022 because of the growing instability of Russia’s defense industrial base affecting Russian arms deliveries worldwide. Therefore, Russia will struggle to compete for sales in the high-value market for advanced military systems. However, Moscow will likely continue to maintain its strong position in the lower-cost market, as Russian systems remain widely used, relatively reliable, and not cost prohibitive. While those deliveries will likely have little monetary value and thus limited ability to insulate Russia’s declining arms export industry, they will continue to bring diplomatic benefits to the Kremlin, particularly in Africa.
This publication was funded by the Russia Strategic Initiative, U.S. European Command. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States government.