Russia is losing the arms market

Recently, the Serbian government announced its intention to purchase French Rafale fighter jets. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic made the announcement during his official visit to Paris. This is a contract for the purchase of 12 Rafale multi-role fighters to replace the outdated Soviet MiG-29s that Serbia currently has in its air force.

In this context, it is extremely interesting to note that Serbia has historically been one of Russia’s largest allies in Europe, particularly in the Balkans. This reversal from Moscow is significant—even the Kremlin’s closest allies are beginning to refuse to cooperate. Due to geopolitical circumstances, it is simply impossible now—even if you want to—to buy from Russia,” the Serbian official said. This shows that Russia is increasingly becoming toxic, even to its allies.

It’s important to note that this contract cancellation is not unprecedented. In 2020, India officially announced its intention to purchase 33 Russian fighter jets (21 modernized MiG-29s and 12 new Su-30s). The contract’s estimated value at the time was $2.4 billion. Furthermore, there were reports of intentions to form a joint venture for aircraft repair and maintenance, as well as plans to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter.

However, with the outbreak of full-scale aggression against Ukraine, New Delhi sharply revised its plans. Initially, in 2023, New Delhi announced plans to purchase 28 French Dassault Rafale M aircraft instead of Russian ones. Later, the joint development was canceled.

Following this, the United States, a new ally, took over cooperation with the Russians in the defense sector. India is now seeking to distance itself from Russia as its largest arms supplier after the war in Ukraine undermined Russia’s ability to supply ammunition and spare parts.

New Delhi is gradually reorienting itself to the West instead of its historical ties with Moscow. “We are unlikely to sign any major military agreement with Russia. That would be a red line for Washington,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi.

This is almost the same as what Serbian officials have said. Similarly, Ecuador has decided in favor of American weapons. The country’s leadership will abandon outdated Soviet weapons and begin purchasing arms from the United States.

In addition to the geopolitical aspects that influence a state’s willingness to cooperate with Russia, there is another more objective factor. This is the true effectiveness of Russian weapons in real combat situations. The war in Ukraine has shown the vulnerability of Russian systems (which in fact are just updated Soviet systems) against modern Western weapons.

In February 2024 alone, Ukrainian air defenses shot down 13 Russian aircraft, most of which were modern Su-34s (10 units) and Su-35s (2 units). They visually confirmed the destruction of 99 aircraft and damaged another nine, according to Oryx volunteer estimates. The actual number should be higher, as it is not always possible to find the aircraft’s remains, photos, or videos of its damage.

Russia’s reliability as a partner and arms manufacturer is also in question. The maintenance of Russian army equipment is already facing serious problems, despite the Kremlin prioritizing this issue and creating optimal conditions for it, such as putting the industry on a war footing and ensuring round-the-clock production. In such a situation, there could be issues with the maintenance of the equipment sold to other countries or with the production of these systems for export. For example, in 2023, Russia failed to fulfill a contract to supply S-400s to India.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russian arms exports fell by 53% between 2014–2018 and 2019–2023. Although Russia used to be one of the largest suppliers of arms and military equipment, it has now fallen to third place. The laws of any market (and especially such a specific market as the arms trade) state that it is very easy to lose share but extremely difficult to regain it.

And Moscow probably understands very well that if Putin’s war aggression against Ukraine continues, it has no chance of returning to its previous performance. Therefore, we should expect more and more such news, even from our closest Russian allies.

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