How Has Putin’s ‘Special Military Operation’ Affected Russian Arms Exports to MENA?
Bradford Thomas Duplessis

July 3, 2024
Echoing the Cold War, great power competition rapidly accelerated in the Middle East this last decade due to the convergence of the 2011 Arab Spring, the Obama administration’s withdrawal from Iraq, the 2015 signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and subsequent attempts by American administrations to pivot away from the region to the Indo-Pacific.

President Obama’s pivot to the Pacific was fashioned to re-focus on America’s vital national security interests after a generational emphasis on combatting terrorism abroad. Although logically sound from a national security perspective, America’s pivot was poorly received in MENA capitals, which viewed Washington’s retrenchment as a signal that the zenith of American power was in its rearview.

Putin’s Russia soon thereafter ‘returned’ to the Middle East by backing the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War.1 Moscow’s return to the region rests on three main pillars: arms exports; access to military bases; and use of its private military companies, such as the Wagner Group. I focus here on the first pillar, specifically Russia’s arms sales to its MENA partners and how the Russo-Ukrainian War has impacted Moscow’s ability to continue arms exports to its MENA clients.

Why the Middle East matters to Russia

The Middle East’s strategic significance is directly tied to its rich energy resources and geographic location at the nexus between Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Soviet Union (and later Russia) viewed the greater Middle East as a venue for competition with the leading powers of the day—the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.2 This competition oftentimes accelerated when Russia sought to take advantage of American missteps. The dissolution of the Soviet Union however, resulted in an era of American regional hegemony as post-Soviet Russia had limited resources and a weak hand to play.3

Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic outreach differs significantly from that of U.S. presidents. Whereas various U.S. administrations have picked their preferred partners, with support for the state of Israel and animus towards Iran consistent across administrations of both parties, Putin harkened back to the Soviet-era in establishing relations with all regional states regardless of the underlying regional rivalries or tensions.4 Regional opposition to the U.S. military intervention that removed Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad aided this outreach by allowing Moscow to present itself as more responsible than Washington.5 Indeed, Russia sought to assert itself as a key regional player after the minimal influence Moscow wielded in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. This approach aligned with Putin’s 2007 Munich Security Conference speech in which he declared the return of multipolarity to the global system and railed against the double standards in the international system.

Putin views the Middle East as a zero-sum game in which one of his priorities is to balance the United States. Although Moscow does not possess the capability or capacity to directly confront Washington, playing no favorites has allowed Putin to gain influence. Arab leaders are prone to pursue ties with both Moscow and Washington—playing both sides allows them to obtain better deals with more concessions from the two powers. The convergence of these interests has long enabled Moscow to wield arms exports as a key feature of its foreign policy.
Figure 1: Global Arms Exports (2014-2023).
Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Russia’s Global Arms Sales: 2014-2023

There is debate as to the true purpose of arms sales, ranging from supporting American industry to enabling partners to take on increased responsibility for their own security. This is especially salient in light of decreasing domestic support for U.S. military intervention, coupled with a renewed focus on great power competition. Competition entails cost-benefit analysis, tradeoffs, resource prioritization, and risk. Washington’s retrenchment from the Middle East to better compete in the Indo-Pacific reveals the importance of arms exports to its MENA partners. Likewise, arms exports provide Moscow a means of extending its influence without the added risk of a direct confrontation with the United States.

To compare arms sales over time, I relied on Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) data. Figure 1 depicts the value of arms exports to MENA states by the top five global arms exporters from 2014-2023 expressed in SIPRI trend-indicator values (TIVs). I split the timeframe into the two five-year periods depicted in Figure 1.

The percentage of global arms exports by supplier from 2014-2023. One thing to note is that the data is bifurcated into two five-year periods to depict changes in market share over time. The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of arms, supplying ~42% between 2019-2023. Russia experienced a 9 percent decline in its global market share from 2014-2018 to 2019-2023 and was replaced by France as the world’s second largest global arms supplier.

The United States cornered the global arms market, accounting for 34 percent and 42 percent of global arms sales from 2014-2018 and 2019-2023, respectively. In contrast, Russia witnessed a reduction in arms exports over the same two time periods and was recently surpassed by France as the world’s second largest arms exporter. Globally, 48 states between 2014-2018, 3 of which—India, China, and Algeria—accounted for approximately 55 percent of its exports.
Figure 2: Russia’s MENA Arms Exports (2014-2018).
Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute at
The reduction in exports cannot all be traced back to the Russo-Ukrainian War. The domestic defense industrial capacity of New Delhi and Beijing, which began well before Putin’s military intervention, offers some explanatory power. Indeed, Russia assisted India in establishing its military industrial base by participating in the joint manufacture of Su-30 aircraft and T-90 main battle tanks (MBTs) in India. Demands to equip Russian forces fighting in Ukraine with critical support have also impacted Moscow’s global exports. Exports to MENA tell a similar tale.

Moscow’s MENA Arms Sales

Moscow’s MENA Arms Sales: 2014-2018
MENA accounted for approximately 30 percent of Russia’s global exports. Moscow not only exported more than three-hundred T-90 MBTs—its main tank available for export—but also exported S-300 air defense systems and advanced rotary-winged and fixed-wing aircraft, hence establishing relationships that will likely bear fruit in the form of future sales and upgrades to these respective platforms.

The value (expressed in millions of SIPRI TIVs) of Russian arms exports to MENA states (See Figure 2). Depicted in the figure are the major weapons systems distributed to Moscow's top 5 recipients (outlined in blue). Russia’s top 5 partners (by dollar value of equipment transferred) are Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of systems transferred to the partner; ** indicates that the equipment transferred was second-hand.

Market share is arguably not the most important metric when gauging the effect of arms exports. The number of partners, type of equipment transferred, and percentage of arms sales a patron provides are perhaps more important, especially as they relate to path dependency—the acquisition of upgraded versions of previously purchased systems. In other words, the sale of a major system—such as a main battle tank or advanced fighter—is likely to reap future benefits to the seller due to the recipient having already invested in the training of personnel, maintenance of the system, building of logistical hubs to support the equipment, and development of doctrine to determine how the equipment will be employed during training and operations. As such, a state is unlikely to transition its armed forces away from a similar system or platform in the near future.

Moscow has few true partners. Indeed, 9 of the 19 MENA states did not import Russian arms from 2014-2018; and the top five importers—Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Syria—accounted for approximately 98 percent of Moscow’s exports .These states imported advanced weapon systems, such as the S-300; T-90 MBTs; Mi-35s; Ka-52 attack helicopters; and Su-30 fighters, setting the foundation for future sales and upgrades. Further, Moscow asserted itself as the arms vendor of choice for Algeria, Syria, and Iran, exporting greater than 51 percent of the arms they each imported from 2014-2018, with the high value exports to Syria and Iran primarily consisting of S-300 air defense systems (See Figure 2).
Figure 3: Percentage of MENA arms imports from Russia (2014-2018).
The percentage of arms imported from Russia by each MENA state from 2014-2018. This figure clearly depicts Moscow’s focus on a select few partners, with both Syria and Iran receiving greater than 75 percent of their arms from Russia. Additionally, the increase in post-Arab Spring Egyptian arms imports is quite apparent.

Washington’s MENA Arms Sales
In contrast to Moscow, Washington possesses a constellation of MENA partners and allies as evidenced by the fact that it provides military capability and capacity to 17 of the region’s 19 countries—the lone exceptions being Iran and Syria. Washington’s strategic approach picks winners from among its major non-NATO allies—Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco—and NATO ally Turkey.
Figure 4: Value of Arms Exports to NATO and Major Non-NATO Allies (2014-2023);
Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) at
Although the total value of Washington’s arms exports decreased from 2014-2018 to 2019-2023, its global market share increased from 34 percent to 42 percent. To be clear, the United States has a market share, but Moscow’s arrival on the scene provides potential partners, even America’s allies, with options. Evidence supporting this claim is apparent in the form of declining arms sales to two of Washington’s MENA allies, Egypt and Turkey. Indeed, Moscow supplanted Washington as the largest arms supplier to both Cairo and Ankara from 2019-2023 (See Figure 4). Moscow’s inroads can be explained by examining the perceptions of America’s regional allies, with post-Arab Spring Egypt being the clearest example.

The dollar value (expressed in millions of SIPRI TIVs) of arms exports to Washington’s eight regional MNNAs and Turkey. The U.S. held a decisive advantage in supplying its major partners. Russia supplied seven of the nine states; and supplanted Washington as the largest arms supplier to Egypt and Turkey during the time period measured.

Egypt has long had a strong military relationship with the United States. However, following the overthrow of the Mubarak government and the 2013 military coup that brought Al Sisi to power, President Obama suspended the delivery of M1 Abrams MBTs and F-16 fighters to Cairo. Russia was more than willing to seize this opportunity, soon thereafter inking a $5 billion arms deal and agreeing to military exercises with Cairo. Moscow also gained access to Egyptian air bases, thus expanding its military footprint and operational reach in the region. States have choices—using Russia to counteract American indifference or reticence will continue to be a feature of strategic competition in MENA.

Russia’s MENA Arms Sales: 2019-2023
Russia’s global arms sales contracted further during this timeframe. Moscow exported arms to 41 states, three of which—India, China, and Egypt—accounted for approximately 63 percent of the value of Russia’s arms sales. In comparison, the United States increased its market share from 34 percent to 42 percent, exporting arms to 107 states.

Arms exports in the previous period (2014-2018) largely consisted of high technology fighters, MBTs, and air defense systems, all of which Russia is known for exporting globally. From 2019-2023, Moscow exported much fewer of these systems to its MENA customers, instead relying heavily on the sale of anti-tank missiles, surface to air missiles, and a limited number of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, including providing second-hand fighters to Haftar’s Libyan National Army. As such, Russia’s MENA arms exports accounted for $2.94 billion USD—or approximately 16.2 percent of its global total—a reduction of approximately 14 percent from 2014-2018. Further, five states—Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Iran—witnessed a greater than 50 percent reduction in its imports when compared against 2014-2018.

This reduction cannot all be attributed to the Russo-Ukrainian War. Some of it is no doubt cyclical in nature and explained by prior purchases. For example, Algeria previously purchased high quantities of T-90 MBTs, Mi-28s, and Su-30s from 2014-2018. It stands to reason that Algeria would not be in the market for additional high end weapon systems so soon. However, Algeria, like Egypt, canceled a purchase order for Su-35 fighters in 2022.
Figure 5: Russia’s MENA Arms Exports (2019-2023)
Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute at
It is not all bad news for Moscow, however. As displayed in Figure 5, Russia extended its reach into MENA by exporting arms to a greater number of states (13) as compared to 2014-2018 (9). Further, not only did Russia maintain its monopoly on arms exports to Algeria and Egypt, but it supplanted Washington as Ankara’s arms provider of choice, while also increasing exports to the UAE.

The value (expressed in millions of SIPRI TIVs) of Russian arms exports to MENA states. The major systems transferred to Moscow’s top 5 recipients (outlined in blue) are captured in the figure. Russia’s top 5 partners (by dollar value of equipment transferred) are Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Libya’s HoR, and the UAE. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of systems transferred to the partner; a ** indicates that the equipment transferred was second-hand.

Arms deals inked by Moscow since 2022 paint a bleaker picture. From 2022-2023, Russia agreed to export only to three MENA actors—Algeria, Iran, and Haftar’s forces in Libya. These deals account for approximately $862 million in sales and comprise equipment such as Yak-130 training aircraft to Iran and MiG-29M aircraft, air defense systems, and armored turrets to Algeria. When compared to the total number of MENA customers—and the value and type of equipment Russia provided from 2019-2023 (depicted in Figure 5)—there is clear evidence of a decline in arms exports since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Figure 6: Percentage of MENA arms imports from Russia (2019-2023)
This figure illustrates the expansion of arms transfers to a greater number of MENA states, including NATO ally Turkey. However, Moscow experienced a reduction in its market share during this time period and exported a reduced percentage of its MENA partners’ arms, with only Haftar’s Libya National Army receiving greater than 75 percent of its arms from Russia and Syria, and Iraq and Iran receiving 50% or greater of its arms from Russia.

Expanding this analysis to Moscow’s global arms sales during this time period paints a similar picture. Specifically, current orders highlight a dearth of Russian arms deals for high end weapon systems when compared to other global exporters (see Table 1). It remains to be seen whether Moscow can fulfill its end of its contract with India to jointly produce 464 T-90S tanks. Current battlefield losses are tank heavy, and no doubt will consume key inputs, such as tank engines and transmissions, which Moscow agreed to provide to the joint venture. The weighing of risk between equipping the force for current operations in Ukraine versus the ability of Russia’s defense industrial base to modernize the current fleet and also produce enough tanks to fill export orders remains to be seen.

Putin’s ‘Special Military Operation’ and its Impact on MENA Arms Sales

Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has been a strategic error. Seeking to keep Ukraine from moving closer to the West and eventually joining NATO, the operation has not only led to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance but has resulted in enormous loss of Russian manpower and materiel. The problem for Moscow is not merely the mobilization, training, and equipping of newly indoctrinated soldiers to fuel the fight in Ukraine. That is no doubt the priority. Putin’s miscalculation has reverberated throughout the Russian defense industrial base, hindering the state’s ability to export arms, a key feature of Putin’s policy towards MENA. This section expounds on these thoughts by briefly covering Moscow’s battlefield losses, the effect that sanctions are having on Russia’s ability to manufacture and export arms, and on the current state of Russia’s defense industrial base, which is struggling to keep pace with competing demand signals.
Table 2: Russian Battlefield Losses in Ukraine (as of March 26, 2024)
Battlefield Losses in Ukraine
There is debate as to how much manpower and materiel Russia has lost in Ukraine. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense likely inflates Russian losses for both its domestic audience and to further ingratiate Kyiv to its western backers. Likewise, Moscow is wont to undercount its losses to paint its operation in a better light for its domestic audience. What is not up for debate is that Russian forces have paid a heavy price during Putin’s “special military operation.” I used data compiled by Oryx, a Dutch open-source intelligence (OSINT) entity, that requires video or photographic evidence of the destruction, damage, capture, or abandonment of Russian equipment. As a result of these strict measurement standards, Oryx data is likely to undercount Russian losses, while still providing a point of analysis for the researcher.

This table captures Russian battlefield losses in Ukraine across five major weapon systems. There are limitations to the data available. I used Oryx data as this entity requires video or photographic proof of equipment destruction, damage, capture, or abandonment. As a result, the numbers above are likely to be an undercount of Russia’s true battlefield losses. Source:

Table 2 provides aggregate data on major equipment losses, regardless of equipment variant or model. For example, a destroyed main battle tank may be a destroyed T-80 or a T-72. In total, Russia lost 2856 MBTs during its first 761 days of combat operations in Ukraine, or in other words, Ukraine destroyed an average of 3.75 Russian tanks per day for 761 days. Russia has also lost around 20 percent of its Su-34 fleet.

Sanctions Take a Bite out of Russia’s Arms Industry
There is still a demand for Russian arms.However, fear of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is restricting Moscow from receiving critical components required by its defense industry. As an example, the Royal United Services Institute identified at least 450 foreign-made components originating from nine states in Russian military platforms, noting that a minimum of 80 components were subject to exports controls by the United States, to say nothing of additional sanctions imposed by the EU and others.

Russia cannot merely turn to import substitution to solve this problem—a 2019 internal assessment showed that Russia was largely unable to domestically produce replacements for the electronics and equipment its defense industry requires. Likewise, sanctions are driving would-be customers away from purchasing Russian arms. The clearest example of this fear is Egypt backing out of its previously signed Su-35 deal. In its aftermath, Moscow transferred Yak-107 training aircraft to Tehran in September 2023, presumably ahead of an eventual “Egypt’s” twenty-four Su-35s to Iran.

There is little doubt that sanctions on both arms exports and the sale of critical inputs to Russia’s defense industry—mainly optical equipment, microchips and semiconductors, engines, and machine tools—have greatly affected Moscow. As Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stated, “The Russian military is struggling to find spare parts for their tanks, for their satellites, for their rocket-mounting systems…” However, the longer the Russo-Ukrainian War drags on, the more apparent it becomes that Russia is finding work-arounds with the assistance of partners who have years of experience evading sanctions.

Additionally, it has been reported that Moscow reached out to Myanmar, India, Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, and Pakistan in an attempt to buy back previously provided engines, optics, cameras, and other critical defense industry inputs. In the case of Egypt, Cairo reportedly agreed to return 150 helicopter engines to Russia after its previous deal to surreptitiously provide Moscow with 40-thousand artillery rounds drew the ire of Washington. Iran and China continue to be Russia’s main partners in securing inputs into its defense industrial base.

The Moscow-Tehran Nexus and Sanctions Evasion
Moscow’s growing relationship with Tehran is an area of concern for two major reasons. First, Iran’s long history of working around various sanctions regimes has allowed Tehran to share these methods with Moscow. Most notably, Moscow has taken to using the North-South Corridor as a prime shipping route for illicit goods that feed its war effort. Second, after Shaheed-131/136 drones during the initial stages of the Russo-Ukrainian War to attack Ukrainian critical infrastructure, Tehran and Moscow inked a deal to build drones at a facility in Tatarstan with a goal of producing 6,000 drones.

As a result, Russia is not only producing effective systems to be employed against Kyiv, but gaining valuable technical expertise that can feed back into its defense industry. Likewise, the mass production of cheap, effective, unmanned systems may eventually afford Moscow another means of attracting future buyers and regaining some of its lost market share.

Moscow-Beijing Security Cooperation
Russia and China have strengthened their relationship, with Moscow machine tools and the microchips required to produce tanks, missiles, and aircraft. Russia imported nearly 90 percent of its microchips and 70 percent of its machine tools from Beijing in 2023, no doubt seeking to fill the loss of $114 million USD worth of semiconductors and microchips the United States supplied in 2021. This is a critical relationship for Moscow to nurture. The Russian defense industry requires approximately 30-thousand microchips per month but is only capable of producing 8-thousand per month domestically, with many being poorer quality than those available from other sources.

Beijing and Moscow are also working together to produce drones and optical components for Russian tanks and other armored vehicles. This collaboration has drawn the attention of officials in Washington with Secretary of State Tony Blinken recently visiting Beijing to personally deliver the message, “If China does not address this problem, we will.” In summary, Russia’s defense industrial base is adapting in the face of sanctions. It remains to be seen how well it can balance current requirements in Ukraine and still produce enough quality systems for its export customers who traditionally have imported main battle tanks, fighters, and air defense systems.

The Russian Defense Industrial Base
Dissatisfied with efforts to sustain the fight against Kyiv, Putin established a Ukraine Board in late 2022 to supplant the VPK, Russia’s military-industrial commission.6 The Ukraine board’s primary focus is to overcome the logistical challenges of delivering equipment, repairing armaments, and delivering munitions to the battlefield. For Russia, the challenge remains balancing current requirements of its force in Ukraine against modernization efforts and production to maintain its arms exports. Initial indications are that current requirements have trumped the latter two priorities for the near future.7

DIB Balancing: Current Operations, Modernization, and Arms Sales
There is still a demand for Russian arms from MENA states. However, the Russian DIB is focused on refurbishing older tanks and armored vehicles to replace battlefield losses and fielding new equipment to the armed forces, leaving little available for export. Further, sanctions may limit these exports for the foreseeable future.

Russia’s aviation industry has been hit hard by sanctions and is challenged to maintain its current inventory of older airframes. Specifically, the pace of Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) operations in Ukraine, combined with the age of the airframes they have employed, reduce the lifespan of these aircraft. As such, operational tempo may add to the challenges faced by the Ukraine board as the Russo-Ukrainian War continues apace. In other words, the longer the Russo-Ukrainian War persists, the more likely that any components and repair parts Moscow receives through its sanction-evading partners will go towards maintaining its operations against Kyiv, not to exports.

There is also evidence that Moscow is struggling to fill its current orders.
As of August 2023, the head of Rosoboronexport—the entity that handles arms exports—reported a backlog of $50B USD worth of orders, with 75 percent of these orders being for aircraft and air defense systems.8 Prior to its invasion of Ukraine, Russia struggled to produce large numbers of fighters. For example, between 2011-2020, industry was able to produce between 8-12 Su-34s annually, casting doubt as to whether or not the VKS will receive replacement airframes for the approximately 20 percent of Su-34 inventory it has lost over the skies of Ukraine.

Despite the mobilization of society and industry to support the war effort, recent reports estimate that the VKS currently procures only around a combined total of 20 Su-30, Su-34, and Su-35 aircraft annually. This is a dire warning for Rosoboronexport. The Su-30 has long been Russia’s primary export fighter, with Russia providing greater than 600 aircraft to its customers, including 12 Su-30MK to Algeria.9 To put this into perspective, American industry has produced 150 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters per year prior to moving into full-rate production.

It remains to be seen whether industry can handle the increased demand of backfilling battlefield tank losses with refurbished Soviet-era systems, while modernizing the force, and still yet have enough capacity to provide India with the T-90S tank engines and transmissions Moscow previously agreed to as part of Moscow and New Delhi’s joint T-90S production agreement (see Table 1). The Ukraine board and Russian DIB appear to be focused on playing to their own advantage in the Russo-Ukrainian War, mass. As such, industry is turning to Soviet-era and other older main battle tanks in storage to fill this gap. There is still interest in Russian arms; however, it stands to reason that potential customers are interested in new builds of the T-90, not in the old, retrofitted Soviet-era inventory.
Table 3: Russian tanks in storage. Source: IISS 2024, 193
Estimates vary, but it appears that Russia has approximately 5,100 tanks of various models and variants in storage. Table 3 lists tank type (independent of variant) reported to be fielded to Russian formations and in storage.

This table captures the number of tanks Moscow is estimated to possess, with 1,100 fielded to the Russian Armed Forces and approximately 4,100 tanks in storage. Of note, the tanks in storage include a range variants of the following MBTs: T-55, T-62, T-72, T-80, and T-90.

These numbers underscore the challenges facing the Ukraine Board and industry. Main battle tank production has traditionally been one of Russia’s strengths. However, Russia has lost an average of 3.75 tanks per day for 761 days in Ukraine, meaning that industry would have to produce 113 tanks per month just to replace battlefield losses. It is unclear how many tanks Russian industry is capable of producing per month, or if production means new builds, refurbishment of older platforms currently in storage, or a combination of the two. What is quite clear is that the Russian DIB is not capable of meeting Putin’s publicly announced 1,600 tanks by 2025. A reasonable estimate is that Russian industry has the capacity to produce 20 tanks per month; and tank depots can repair 8-23 tanks per month. Further analysis of Russian tank production is warranted; however, these numbers offer valuable insights.

First, assuming that Russia is capable of fielding an additional 43 tanks per month—a high estimate of total production plus tank repairs—battlefield losses alone far outpace the capacity of industry, making tank exports highly unlikely for the foreseeable future. Second, understanding the breakdown of tank production between new builds and refurbishment will provide insight into not only the capability of the tanks being produced, but likely how well Russia is evading sanctions. For example, a preponderance of older refurbishments likely means that Russia has the on-hand repair parts to rapidly put these tanks into operation.

On the other hand, limited production of new builds—or new builds being produced with previous generation optics, engines, and other components—likely means that sanctions are having an effect and Russia is struggling to receive enough components to produce new builds to a high quality. These two outcomes may be satisfactory for current operations in Ukraine where Moscow’s true advantage is mass but will surely not satisfy potential arms buyers. Figure 2 lends credence to this point. MENA arms buyers have primarily purchased T-90s, with the lone exception being Syria, which received ten second-hand T-90s and fifty T-62s.

Methodological Challenges and Limitations

I encountered challenges associated with data detailing both Russian losses in Ukraine, the capacity of Russia’s defense industrial base, and the value of Russia’s annual arms transfers.

To mitigate the challenges associated with determining Russian battlefield losses, I used data from Oryx, a Danish OSINT organization that requires video or photographic evidence of the destruction, damage, capture, or abandonment of Russian equipment. Doing so likely means that the battlefield losses captured in my analysis are prone to be understated, but Oryx data afforded me a point of analysis without relying on what are likely to be overcounted Ukrainian statistics or under-reported Russian reports of their losses in Ukraine.

To remedy the challenge of determining Russian defense industrial capacity, I relied on reports from analysts and organizations who routinely report on the subject while being mindful of the statements of Russian leaders and officials. I used the high end of the ranges of Russian tank production and refurbishment, as well as aircraft production to compare battlefield losses against Russian industrial capacity. The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance 2024 and the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Out of Stock? were particularly helpful. I deliberately selected the higher end of estimations of Russian industrial strength to avoid assertions that I drew faulty inferences by relying on underinflated production rates. In doing so, my analysis may actually overcount Russian industrial capacity, while also showing that even by overestimating the capacity of the Russian defense industrial base, industry cannot keep pace with replacing battlefield losses and also meet the demand for arms.

Finally, Russia does not publicly report their arms exports, resulting in SIPRI gaining access to sales data when the receiving country makes a transaction public. As such, there may be Russian arms sales that are not tracked by SIPRI and are therefore missing from the data I presented. Nevertheless, SIPRI employs a consistent methodology so that even if a value is missing due to lack of public reporting, researchers will be able to detect and analyze trends in arms exports over time, which is what this paper addresses.
[1] Vasiliev, Alexey. 2018. Russia’s Middle East Policy: From Lenin to Putin. Routledge.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Morozov, Viacheslav. 2022. “The Middle East in Russia’s Foreign Policy, 1990-2020.” In Russian Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East: New Trends, Old Traditions, edited by Kozhanov, Nikolay, 15-36. Oxford University Press.
[4] Katz, Mark N. 2022. “Different But Similar: Comparing Moscow’s Middle East Policies in the Cold War and the Putin Eras.” In Russian Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East: New Trends, Old Traditions, edited by Kozhanov, Nikolay, 37-59. Oxford University Press.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2024. “Russia and Eurasia: Regional Trends in 2023.” In The Military Balance 2024, no. 1 (2024): 158–217. doi:10.1080/04597222.2024.2298592.
[7] Ibid.
[8] The International Institute for Strategic Studies. 2024. “Russia and Eurasia: Regional Trends in 2023.” In The Military Balance 2024, no. 1 (2024): 158–217. doi:10.1080/04597222.2024.2298592.
[9] Ibid.
  • Bradford Thomas Duplessis

    George Mason University
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