Russia reverses course on defense imports

Russia signed a $1.3 billion deal to buy two French Mistral-class amphibious helicopter carrier assault and command ships

From Tom Kington, Defense News:  Russia, after enthusiastically embracing defense imports such as Italian vehicles and French ships, appears to be slamming that door in favor of domestic manufacturers.

Moscow’s decision to limit imports, recently espoused by generals and politicians, is due to foreign policy shifts and growing pressure from domestic manufacturers, observers have said.

According to one Italian industrial source knowledgeable of the deals, in Moscow there is “strong opposition in principle to the opening up to Western technologies from part of the Russian military and national industry.”

The movement is a reversal for Russia. The country’s interest in buying foreign equipment picked up steam in June 2011, when then-President Dmitry Medvedev said such a move was permissible if domestic products were overpriced. But the consensus in Moscow appeared to change when Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was sacked in November over a corruption probe at the ministry.

Russia’s Land Force commander, Col. Gen. Vladimir Chirkin, said Jan. 23 that the Russian Defense Ministry would stop buying Italian light multirole vehicles (LMVs) despite the fact that last year, the LMV was the first non-Russian vehicle to be used in the annual Red Square military parade commemorating the World War II victory over Nazism. . . .

Russia was originally expected to acquire 3,000 vehicles, but fewer than 400 have been contracted, of which more than 100 are still to be delivered. An Iveco spokeswoman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Russia’s 1-billion-euro ($1.3-billion) deal to buy two French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships in June 2011 came under fire Jan. 24 from the deputy head of Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission, Ivan Kharchenko, who called the purchase “absurd,” adding it had damaged Russian shipyards. He made the comments in a speech to industry officials, according to Ria Novosti.

Two days later, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin claimed the ships would not function in cold Russian climates. . . .

In France, a French defense expert said Paris had upset Moscow over the Syria crisis by blaming Russia and China for blocking Western attempts in the United Nations Security Council to adopt tougher measures against the Assad government.

That, he said, rankled Russian officials, who in December briefed the local press that the government would not exercise options to acquire a second batch of two Mistral command and projection ships.

The story then shifted to the government, preferring to wait and see how the first batch of two Mistrals, built in France by DCNS, would perform before deciding in 2016 whether to acquire the remaining two ships. On Feb. 1, Russian officials attended the laying of the first block of the first Mistral at the Saint-Nazaire shipyard.

“The program for the first two ships is going ahead normally,” a DCNS executive said. DCNS declined to respond to the Russian comments. . . .

On Jan. 26, new Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, “If we have to shop abroad, we will, but only in those circumstances where we lose all faith in our own industry."   (photo: AFP)

Image: afp%202%204%2013%20Mistral.jpg