Military-technical cooperation between Russia and EU countries. Money or morality – what is more important?
When Russia started aggression against Ukraine and was punished by the USA and the European Union sanctions imposed against it, the European countries formally cancelled their contacts with Moscow in the military and military-technical spheres. For instance, France terminated a billion-worth deal for Mistral-class amphibious assault ships with Russia. Germany and UK announced suspension of supplies of military and dual purpose products and respective technologies to Russia. Germany, in particular, froze the construction of military training facilities in Russia. Several other EU countries also declared termination of their military contracts with Russia. The British went even further by barring supplies of armament components to third countries which may be used them in products being supplied to Russia. Purely symbolic things like joint exercises and naval visits have also been cancelled.
Thus, the Europeans have demonstrated their desire to settle the "Ukrainian-Russian armed conflict" and "make the aggressor observe the international law".
However, in the modern world the economic and financial gains, unfortunately, prevail over morality and political appropriateness. As a result, not all the EU countries observe the announced sanctions and continue to develop collaboration with the aggressor, while others are looking for loopholes trying to beguile the general public.
Collaboration with a card-sharper – guess who is going to win?
Before the US and EU applied the economic sanctions, Russia and the European countries actively cooperated in the military-technical sphere, in particular, sharing the advanced technologies, organizing licensed production, producing new weapons and military equipment (WME), as well as exporting them to third countries and modernizing the obsolescent WME. After the sanctions have been introduced, the military-technical collaboration (MTC) with these countries was slashed but not totally. One of the main reasons for the continuing MTC in certain spheres is the Russian interest in maintaining the relations. The explanation is quite simple: Russia, being dependent on the Western technologies and not less important financial investments and suffering from the sanctions, is unable to complete the large-scale rearmament of its armed forces (AF).
Europe, possessing modern technologies and great financial capabilities, is a very precious object of scrutiny for the Kremlin. The Russian export of hydrocarbons to EU throughout the existence of the modern Russia (since the disintegration of the Soviet Union) had filled up its gold and monetary reserves, enlivening the country's economy, but was not used for developing modern weapons and military equipment without using the Western technologies. Moscow has still remained dependent in many ways on imported products, including those from Europe. As a matter of fact, by 2020 the Kremlin expects to reduce its dependence on the import in various industries to the level of 50 or 60 %. And this is a best case scenario...,
Russia is still dependent in science intensive industries and lags behind in production processes. As an example: in the space exploration sphere the country imports 206 items, 58 of which are only Russian-made analogues. In ship building the share of foreign components of ship instruments reaches 95 %. It was the cooperation with Western companies that made Russian weapons more competitive.
At that, the impressive part of production facilities remain obsolete and worn down. The Kremlin clearly understands that without the technical re-equipment of production facilities and investments into innovative technologies, the Russian military industry will hardly be able in the near future to produce new generation weapons comparable or surpassing by quality the products of their nearest competitors in the armament market, like the USA, France, the UK, Germany and Israel. Therefore, the Russian leaders have been looking for getting access to modern Western technologies despite the sanctions. Besides, the Kremlin is doing its best to keep its positions on armament markets, including the European ones, where it used to be the monopolist.
Russia has suffered a lot due to the sanctions imposed to penalize it for defying international treaties. For instance, Russians expected to obtain from their Western partners high tech armaments and military equipment and accessories, which Russian defence industry cannot produce independently. The Russian military made no secret of wanting to get these systems only to use them afterwards against the Europeans. The list of high tech armaments desperately needed by the Russian military to oppose NATO, includes: UAVs, modern outfit of the soldier of the future, electrochemical generators on fuel cells, air-independent propulsion plants for submarines, naval sonar stations for Navy, mine detection and destruction systems ahead of a ship, thermal imagers and transmissions for armoured vehicles, sniper rifle systems, aircraft suspension optoelectronic containers, wheeled armoured vehicles with heavy duty mine and HE protection and many others. And those are cancelled supplies from France only, not to mention the state-of-the art Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, which Russia wanted to use for implementation of its doctrine of power projection in the outlying regions of the globe.
From Italy, the Russians wanted to get the state-of-the-art wheeled armoured vehicles and their production technologies, helicopters and high tech accessories to WME. The purchase contract for 350 latest Italian Iveco LMV "Lynx" armoured vehicles was concluded between Russia and Italy in 2011.
In Britain, the Russians purchased modern long-range L96 sniper rifles for special operation units whose targets included – among others – the British subjects. In 2013, the Russians bought from Britain $133 million-worth licences for production of rifles, ammunition, and aircraft and helicopter parts, thus expecting to patch up their technological drawbacks. Besides, in January 2014 Russia started negotiations with Britain with an ultimate goal of concluding a large military-technical cooperation agreement. The Russians hoped to promote their weapons in the British market and to be able to trade in armament components and exchange technical information. The agreement was due to be signed in spring 2014 and the Russians in addition to the benefits mentioned in the contract expected, in case of successful implementation of the agreement, to obtain so badly needed technologies in rocket production and electronics fields, where Russian technological backwardness is so evident. London also helped Moscow to maintain security at the Sochi Olympics.
The German Rheinmetall company started in 2011 constructing a modern €100 million brigade firing ground in Mulino, which was to be the first of similar facilities to be constructed all over Russia. The same company was to supply Russia with mobile ammunition disposal units (Russia had recently experience a series of explosions in ordnance storage facilities and such spontaneous "disposal" was a real threat to urban residential districts). In the very 2011 Germany started deliveries of Kärcher Futuretech equipment for field camps.
There are no modern Russian analogues to the equipment and accessories supplied by European countries. Therefore, the sanctions imposed on Russia for its illegal annexation of the Crimea and the military aggression in the east of Ukraine have significantly delayed the rearmament of Russian armed forces, which secretly were training to fight NATO, notwithstanding Russia’s ostentatious claims to get to it on closer footing at a period till 2014 (including due to unscrupulousness of most of European countries which decided to overlook the lessons of the Russian 2008 aggression against Georgia).
All the history of collaboration with the Kremlin proves that sooner or later the time comes when the supplied or jointly produced weapons is turned against the recent partners. Therefore, the Europeans should understand that continuing collaboration with the aggressor, both directly and bypassing the sanctions, they contribute to the increase of financial and military might of a dangerous "partner" who simply uses them to pursue its imperial ambitions.
Once the decency mask was dropped, only the blind can fail to notice that Russia was not getting ready to fight Georgia or Ukraine, it has been preparing to the war with the EU and NATO, and in some fields it has been already for a long time waging an active war, for instance, – in informational, diplomatic and economic spheres. So it turns out that collaborating with Russia, Europe itself nurtures the aggressor, who does not even conceal his plans; that is why the attitude of some European countries, which prefer to continue collaboration with the country which defies its international obligations, seems doubtful.
Is business as usual with the aggressor possible?
Unlike Russia, where the state power is centralized and usurped by KGB-Mafia clan, the European countries, despite the officially declared unity, have different interests (in terms of their attitude to military-technical collaboration with Russia). Some countries due to their mentality are interested in making profits from arms exports and evaluating the volume of the Russian consumer market, seek to revert to "business as usual" relationships. Others being armed with mostly Soviet weapons, look for opportunities to modernize them including by the agency of Russia. The third category of European countries – because of lack of sufficient financial resources – are tempted by the lower prices of weapons in Russia, while the fourth category is for some or other reasons dependent on Russia, while being full NATO and EU members. Nevertheless, the shock caused by the Kremlin aggression in Ukraine, first in the Crimea and then in the Donbass, has made the political elites to startle and think twice about the prospects of collaboration with Russia in the military sphere. But not for long...
The Kremlin knows about it and, assessing its capabilities and the nature of relations with several countries of Europe, is trying to implement the long-proven methods that had been taught in special KGB schools, the overwhelming majority of the current Russian leadership came from, i.e. "bribery and blackmail". Although not aggressively and clearly manifested, these methods are still used on the sly.
Moscow tries to re-establish the close relations with the Europeans. With ones, by providing opportunities to capitalize on export contracts in the interests of third countries; with others, by dumping and offering very tempting, at first glance, prices of their arms and services, as well as providing soft loans to purchase them; with third ones, by making attractive offers of access to their own arms market, with fourth ones, by creating conditions of a difficult choice – either cooperate or lose something.
Thereby, the main goal of Putin’s Russia is splitting the present unity of Europe. If some countries start to trade with them, then the others may feel indignant and the conflict will arise within the EU. As a result, the Kremlin will achieve its goal and the unity of Europe will be split.
The weak link here is the European, especially, military equipment producers, which had succeeded in collaboration with Russia and invested heavily in the development of joint projects. It is those companies, that had been involved in economic, financial and industrial dealings by Russia, which are now mostly in the risk zone and are the potential lobbyists of re-establishment of cooperation with the Russia of today.
As a result, the MTC with the aggressor, who has occupied the Crimea and the Donbass, killed thousands of Ukrainians and made the millions face the choice – either leave their homes or live under occupation – despite the sanctions, is continuing. It should be added, that the European countries themselves do not conceal such collaboration, moreover, sometimes they even proclaim the necessity of returning to the war-time business as usual.
The Russian wedge into European unity
The analysis shows that each European country has its own unique incentives for cooperation with Russia and they have their own historical reasons. In general, the history of relations between Russia and the European countries, which for the last ten years abounded with examples of fruitful and mutually beneficial military-technical cooperation, encourages the parties to seek ways to resume joint activities. And to a greater extent it is Russia that is craving for this. Beside the fact, that thanks to such cooperation Russia wants to obtain so desperately needed technologies and components, without which it cannot compete with the same NATO, Moscow is also focused on undermining the enemy from within.
As to the EU, the above examples of continuing cooperation with the aggressor are a kind of wedge that is driven in by Russia into already undermined and rather fragile European unity, which, in turn, is a threat to the existence of a united Europe.
Brussels should clearly understand that the main goal of Putin on the European continent is the disintegration of the European Union and gradual subjugation of its members one by one irrespective of the fate of Ukraine.
It makes a big difference for Russia what will be status of Italy, Germany and France as its trading partners – as the EU members or as independent subjects. Because, when there is no EU, no supranational institutions can prevent from Russian trade (and any other) aggression against European countries. Therefore, any, even the smallest success of Russia in bypassing and countering European sanctions (a fact is enough, the Russian propaganda will do the job and inflate it to the required size), it is a not just a wedge into European unity, but at the same time another nail into the coffin of the EU.
In spite of this, unfortunately, some politicians in Europe, because of fear and short-sightedness, reassure themselves that by paying off the aggressor with Ukraine, they can solve all the currently existing problems, and will continue trading including weapons, like before. However, as the history has repeatedly demonstrated, appeasing an aggressor and sacrificing others to this end eventually turns against "sacrificers" themselves. This, and the fact that dealings with Russia are dealings with invaders and murderers bringing death and sufferings, should be kept in mind by the Europeans, especially by the priests of the temple called the EU.
Russia has destroyed the decades-long global and regional security system and is moving toward further confrontation with the whole world. Due to the existing and ongoing militarization of the region, aggravation of tension in the Black Sea basin and a number of risky Russian provocations aimed at compelling the Western world to recognize the Russian superpower are to be expected.
While the European countries do not see Russia as an aggressor, but as a potential partner in various forms of cooperation (MTC, struggle against terrorism, etc.), the Kremlin continues its aggression in Ukraine, adding daily new victims to the thousands already killed and wounded and millions of internally displaced citizens of Ukraine.
In order to prevent the destructive actions of Russia, a strengthening of economic and technological sanctions needs to be considered, as well as the formation of a powerful anti-Putin coalition with an effective internal control system. The latter should be a preventer for a number of countries, which try to bypass the sanctions in order to trade in critical products with Russia. Of particular importance is the idea of blocking supplies of high-precision machine tools, high-tech products to Russia, which will render impossible the Kremlin's programs of building new generation fighters, bombers and military transporters, and new high-precision missiles.
It must be realized that by capturing and militarising the Crimea, by the aggression and support for separatists in the Donbass, Moscow threatens not so much Ukraine but the European NATO countries.