As Russia’s military reputation nosedives, so do its Asian arms sales

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have sounded the death knell for its own arms sales to Asia, once one of its biggest weapons export markets.

Tightening sanctions and export controls, alongside reputational damage over the quality of Russian weaponry are accelerating a downward spiral in defence sales to Asian nations, say analysts.

Last month, the Philippines confirmed it had scrapped a $227.7 million deal for 16 Russian Mi-17 helicopters over fears it would face Western sanctions, while last week unconfirmed reports suggested Vietnam may further move away from Russia’s state arms agency amid a long-term fall in sales.

“The days of Russia being top dog in Southeast Asia are over. I think they were over even before the war, and I don’t think they’ll ever recover,” said Dr Ian Storey, a Southeast Asian security expert at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Concerns about sanctions had been compounded by a “public relations disaster” over images of wrecked and abandoned military vehicles in Ukraine that “call into question the quality and reliability of Russian-manufactured military hardware,” he said in a recent report.  

Some of the equipment destroyed on the battlefield, including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and military attack and transport helicopters, had been purchased by Southeast Asian countries.

The reputation of Russian manufactured jets – Moscow’s most lucrative defence export to the region – took a hit when one of its most advanced fighters, a fourth generation-plus SU-35, was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile over Ukraine in April.

Last month, the head of Russia’s weapons export branch predicted revenue in 2022 was likely to total about $10.8 billion, which would be roughly 26 per cent lower than 2021, despite pledges by President Vladimir Putin to expand military cooperation with the country’s allies in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

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