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European Countries Stop Russian Arms Sales to Embarrass France

Russia faces a bump in its rearmament program as Europe cancels defense contracts to Moscow — but France is still figuring it out.

by Ryan Faith
Aug 15 2014, 8:45pm

Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin

As the situation in eastern Ukraine heats up yet again and Russian forces are reportedly openly crossing the border into Ukraine, Western pundits have resumed their cries of "Someone do something for heaven's sake!"

This time, analysts have taken some solace in the fact that Germany's Rheinmetall group has cancelled a fairly important defense contract with Russia. Nonetheless, France still appears to be going ahead with its plans to turn over the newly built Mistral-class amphibious assault ship. Of greater immediate consequence to the Russian defense industry is the fact that it wasn't until June — after months of wrestling with the Russians — that Kiev finally got around to stopping defense exports to Moscow.

Why is France building warships for Russia? Read more.

The Ukrainian and Western restrictions on arms trade will have wildly different effects. Ukraine inherited an entire chunk of the old Soviet military-industrial complex, so the armies of the post-Soviet states all rely on Ukraine for some major subsystems, such as aviation engines (and the turbofan shown at top). Putin has said that it could take 1.5 years to 2.5 years to implement a proper import substitution program.

The refusal of Europe to sell weapons to Russia is also almost entirely pointless once you get past the symbolism.

Meanwhile, Russia will import armored vehicles, UAVs, and helicopters, which are all big-ticket items. It stands to reason that cutting off access to equipment like that could play a big role in Russia's $700 billion rearmament program, which is heartening when evaluating new arms embargoes that Western powers are slapping on Moscow.

The refusal of Europe to sell weapons to Russia is also almost entirely pointless once you get past the symbolism, however. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), since 1998 more than 90 percent of all Russia defense imports are from Ukraine. It will cost Russia almost a billion dollars to work around losing access to Ukrainian suppliers. Still, this isn't a huge amount compared to the entirety of the $700 billion program. And if the Ukrainian embargo is just a bump in the road, then the European embargos won't matter very much at all to Russia.

It may be, however, that the point of the embargoes isn't a signal to Russia or Ukraine, but France. The French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is just one part of a larger contract. While the boats themselves aren't a huge expenditure in the great scheme of things, the bigger deal involves the transfer of particular shipbuilding know-how to Russian shipyards, which could be important over the course of the whole rearmament program.

So, perhaps these cancellations aren't so much meant to constrain Russia but more to create peer pressure for France as it figures out how to resolve this whole mess.

The French are thinking about arming Europe Instead of Russia. Read more.

Follow Ryan Faith on Twitter: @Operation_Ryan

Photo "AI-222-25 MAKS-2007" by Vitaly V. Kuzmin (Vitalykuzmin.net) via Wikimedia Commons.