Russia’s African market on the decline

Russia’s presence in the African arms market has declined in recent years, despite Rosoboronexport’s high profile activities in Algeria and Sudan and Forecast International expects the trend to continue.
The US-based research house notes that at various points during the Cold War te Soviet Union was the primary arms supplier to regimes from Libya to Ethiopia to Angola but that since the end of that global standoff its overall share of the African market has continued to fall.

In 1999, Russia controlled nearly 6% of the African market, but by 2006, its share had dropped to just over 3%. More­over, the importance of the African market to the Russian defence industry has waned as Africa’s total share of exports declined from 21% in 1999 to 18% in 2006 and approximately 15% in 2008.

At the core of Russia’s arms relationship with Africa, also representing one of Russia’s largest arms deals, was the US$7.5 billion deal with Algeria, which was completed in March 2006.

The deal included the advanced 2S6M Tunguska air defence system, SA-19 SAMs, S-300 air defence systems, 36 MIG-29SMTs, 28 Su-30MKs, 180 T-90 main battle tanks, two Kilo class diesel electric submarines, and 16 Yak-130 advanced trainers.
With a delivery timeline stretching from 2007 through at least 2011, Russia will remain committed to this tender for years to come, as the Algerian deal represents a case study in Moscow’s debt relief for arms sales strategy.

However, recent developments indicate that the deal may have reached an impasse. In early 2008, Algeria returned the first batch of MiG-29SMTs to Russia, noting that the purportedly new aircraft were actually used and in poor operating condition.

Russia’s arms deal with Algeria allowed it to gain access to the Moroccan market. As the two North African nations remain wary of each other’s military buildup, Russia was able to capitalise on Morocco’s interest in diversifying its arms supply.

In 2003, Russia signed a deal with Morocco for the supply of 26SM Tunguska air defence systems and accompanying SA-19 missiles, which were delivered in 2005 and 2006.

Aside from the more lucrative northern African markets, major Russian arms sales continue to be directed at conflict-ridden regions: Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia are major markets for Russian arms.

Despite a UN arms embargo that was imposed in 2005, Russia has continued to supply Sudan with arms – albeit most deliveries are for hardware such as IFVs, APCs, and helicopters ordered before the embargo.
Russia also continues to sell an amalga­mation of used fighter-attack aircraft, artillery, anti-tank missiles, and SAMs to Ethiopia and Eritrea, which remain locked in a low-intensity conflict.

Outside of Algeria and the aforementioned conflict regions, the majority of Russian arms sales to Africa consist of helicopters, namely the ubiquitous Mi-8/17, Mi-24, and Mi-35.

While Russian military hardware, specifically small arms, continues to proliferate throughout Africa, these transactions are generally associated with international arms dealers outside the official channels of the Russian government, Forecast International ventured.  
Chinese arms sales worry Washington
Meanwhile, Richard Weitz of the World Politics Review reports that some are speculating that the current worldwide recession could actually benefit Chinese arms exports based on that country`s ability to reproduce foreign weapons systems and then sell them on third-party markets at lower prices than the original.
Weitz says it is “too early to identify a clear trend” but not premature to consider potential unwelcome scenarios, such as the US successfully preventing Russia from selling its S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran or Syria, for instance, and China then stepping in to sell them the HQ-9 surface-to-air missile, which has been characterised as “a not-so-bad Russian S-300 for less money.”

“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already indicated that the Obama administration wants to engage in a dialogue with China on diverse economic, political, and security issues. Thus far, Sino-American discussions have focused on economic recovery, climate change, and the recent maritime clash in the South China Sea. At some point, though, the administration will put Beijing’s conventional arms transfer policies, which have aroused great concern in Washington, on the agenda,” Weitz says.

Since the end of the Cold War, China has become both a major purchaser of advanced conventional weapons from Russia and a regular seller of several billion dollars worth of less sophisticated military systems to other developing countries. Chinese defence companies negotiated US$3.8 billion worth of arms transfer agreements in 2007.

According to the SIPRI Arms Transfer Database, the PRC supplied weapons and military equipment to Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Iran, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Venezuela, and Zambia.

The signing of a 2007 deal under which Pakistan will purchase J-17 fighter aircraft represents the most important sale for Beijing in recent years. Most of Beijing’s other defense transactions, however, involve sales of small arms and light weapons rather than the advanced conventional weapons systems sold by American, European, and Russian firms.

The Middle East remains China’s largest arms market in terms of value. China has meanwhile also become the second-largest supplier of conventional weapons to sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although such exports probably do not yield much revenue in the context of China’s overall foreign commerce, PRC policymakers probably consider them useful means for currying favour and access to certain countries possessing untapped energy reserves and other raw materials,” Weitz says.  

“In this sense, China’s arms sales result in a variety of “win-win” situations. Selling major weapons generates foreign currency that helps pay for China’s national resource imports from Africa. Supplying uniforms and small arms for free or at reduced price garners good will at low cost. In addition, any form of arms transfers to friendly governments has the added benefit of fortifying its leaders against military coups, popular uprisings, and foreign adversaries.

“In coming years, China could become Africa’s leading arms supplier, as PRC leaders continue to cultivate defence ties with their African counterparts. Even with the end of Cold War subsidies, moreover, China typically charges less for its weapons than do competing Western and Russian defence companies. In addition, China’s ongoing military modernisation should result in the People’s Liberation Army discarding large numbers of older weapons. Although incompatible with China’s plans to wage high-tech information warfare against potential regional adversaries, these earlier models could still prove quite deadly in Africa’s myriad regional and internal conflicts.

“The Chinese government insists that its rigorous arms export principles conform to international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions. These standards include selling only defensive weapons that do not destabilize regional force balances or violate international weapons bans adopted by the Security Council. Chinese officials also maintain that, consistent with Beijing’s policy of non-interference in matters of state sovereignty, the PRC only provides arms to sovereign countries — as opposed to non-state actors such as terrorist groups,” he adds.

“Even so, some of China’s recent conventional arms sales have embarrassed the Chinese government, caused tensions with other countries, or both. In June 2008, for instance, Beijing suffered a mortifying incident when dock workers in South Africa and other African countries refused to unload a delivery of ammunition, small arms, and light weapons from a Chinese ship intended for the Zimbabwean government. The electoral tensions in that country clearly suggested that the government of President Robert Mugabe was likely to use these Chinese-manufactured weapons to repress his domestic opponents. Though the ship eventually returned to China, the PRC continues to deliver arms to the Mugabe regime despite its pariah status.”