Sunday

22nd Oct 2017

Opinion

France and Germany should stop arms sales to Russia

  • The Mistral warships are just the tip of EU arms transfers to Russia (Photo: David Monniaux)

The EU says its sanctions against the Kremlin in the light of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine could involve suspending some military co-operation.

The ambiguities of national positions and limitations of Western leverage aside, there is one particular area which should immediately be on the table for discussion - exports of military equipment and military technology transfers that are taking place between some EU countries and Russia.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

A few years ago, the Baltic states were considered “hysterical” for raising objections to the French agreement to sell Moscow its state-of-the-art Mistral-class amphibious assault (also known as “projection and command”) ships.

The deal came soon after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 - a conflict which unnerved many Nato Allies.

It not only boosts Russia’s “power projection” capabilities, but also involves transfer of some sophisticated military technology that Russia will be all too glad to incorporate into developing its domestic defence industrial base and future military capabilities.

A powerful signal was sent to everyone concerned: no matter what the Kremlin is up to in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond, no matter how much selling arms to it upsets allies, and no matter what are the long-term strategic consequences of such policy, earning a buck (billions, actually) is a higher priority.

The Mistral, as it turned out, was also - figuratively speaking - an ice-breaker.

Other projects and deals followed, such as joint Franco-Russian development of a new generation of Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Thales, a French electronics and defence technology giant, is also helping to equip the Russian armed forces with thermal-vision, or night-operations, capability.

As recently as last month, Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s first deputy prime minister in charge of the defence industry, declared a new era of Franco-Russian military co-operation, involving joined competences and deeper exchange of information.

Germany is also expanding its military exports to Russia.

Its Federal Security Council, headed by the Chancellor, has made a habit of dolling out export permits left and right to sending German-made military equipment to countries which have dubious human rights records and which could potentially misuse the materials to suppress domestic dissent or to stir up regional conflicts.

Russia is among them - getting up to 500 export permits in 2011 alone, according to the Military Equipment Export Report.

One recent sale is particularly worrying: German authorities have agreed to sell to Russia a state-of-the-art brigade-level training facility, which is currently available only to the most technologically advanced Western nations.

For Rheinmetall Defence, one of Germany’s largest producers of military equipment, the order is worth over €100 million.

It will enable Russian brigade-sized units to test combat readiness for combined-arms operations, using Rheinmetall equipment to simulate realistic battlefield conditions and assess troop and staff performance.

This will be not a step, but a leap forward for the Russian armed forces and their capability to conduct large-scale conventional military operations.

Putin’s logic

While modest in financial terms next to the French Mistral contract, the German deal constitutes a significant transfer of technology, with sensitive computing and communications hardware and software ending up in the hands of the Russian military - to be studied, copied and built-upon in the future.

It means that for Germany - but also to France, Italy, and other Western nations that sell military equipment to Russia - Moscow is a partner, despite its behaviour in Georgia and now in Ukraine.

And a lucrative partner at that.

It is helping to keep European production lines and shipyards humming, jobs intact - not something to turn a blind eye to when times are tough economically. Not least when politicians want to get re-elected in constituencies which host major defence industry facilities.

There is perhaps an underlying assumption that military equipment sales to the Kremlin might bring about a measure of influence over its behaviour, which the selling side may choose to leverage at critical points in time.

But Russian leader Vladmir Putin’s logic is different: if the Georgia war did not put a dampener on military technology transfers, why should occupying a part of Ukraine be any different?

He seems to think the military co-operation is too valuable to Berlin and Paris for them to take tough action. And he may be right.

It poses the question: who is influencing whom at this stage, the producer or the client?

Sanctions

Enter the EU. Perhaps, the situation will start changing if sanctions to Russia are really put on the table.

It would be obvious and natural to include terminating any military exports and armament co-operation as well as cutting any transfer of military (or even dual-use technology) to Russia into the overall package of sanctions.

But this might prove to be a rather naive expectation, given how much the fragmented European defence industry needs cash from sources other than the dwindling defence budgets of Nato and EU nations.

Do EU countries not see that the current situation is, slowly but surely, contributing to the erosion of Western technological dominance in military affairs? That it is strengthening an increasingly aggressive geopolitical rival and deepening regional military imbalances?

In the long term, there will be costs.

The ambition to have more integration in EU countries’ military-industrial complexes - both on the demand and on the supply side - will remain hostage to national interests and fears, diminishing the prospect of the EU ever emerging as a powerful entity in international security affairs.

Some Nato and EU nations bordering Russia will be increasingly driven to trust less those allies who sell weapons to Russia and to rely even more heavily on the US as a security guarantor.

Meanwhile, if push comes to shove, Nato planners will find themselves facing a far more capable military rival.

The law of holes says that if you are in a hole, you should stop digging.

But do Paris and Berlin even realise they are digging a hole, both for themselves and their allies?

The impact of the current crisis on their military exports, armament co-operation and technology transfer policy vis-a-vis Russia will give an answer to this question.

Tomas Jermalavicius is a research fellow at The International Centre for Defence Studies (ICDS), a Tallinn-based think tank. Kaarel Kaas is editor-in-chief of Diplomaatia, an Estonian journal of international affairs published by ICDS

Khodorkovsky: Putin fears Ukraine 'revolution'

Russian oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said the Kremlin “fears” the Ukrainian revolution, but warned Ukraine not to expect too much help from the West.

Ukraine language law does not harm minorities

Some European politicians keep spreading fictitious arguments on Ukraine's language law as being an impediment to minority rights, Ukraine's education minister says.

News in Brief

  1. Rajoy to trigger Article 155 on Saturday in Catalan crisis
  2. EU conducts unannounced inspection of German car firm
  3. Lithuania calls for new EU energy laws
  4. EU leaders aim for December for defence cooperation
  5. Juncker says hands tied on Russia pipeline
  6. Czechs set to elect billionaire Andrej Babis
  7. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  8. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Jinping Proposes Stronger Global Security Governance at Interpol Assembly
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU Engagement Could Contribute to Lasting Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh
  3. UNICEFViolence in Myanmar Driving 12,000 Rohingya Refugee Children Into Bangladesh Every Week
  4. European Jewish CongressBulgaria Applauded for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  6. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  10. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  11. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  12. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!

Latest News

  1. The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals
  2. Mogherini urged to do more on Russian propaganda
  3. Turkey funding cuts signal EU mood shift
  4. Posted workers top EU agenda This Week
  5. Leaders lobby to host EU agencies at summit's margins
  6. Legal tweak could extend EU control on Russia pipeline
  7. Ukraine language law does not harm minorities
  8. EU begins preparations for Brexit trade talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  2. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  4. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  5. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  6. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  7. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  8. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  12. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement