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Interview: Expert Urges EU To Suspend Arms Sales To Russia

Jermalavicius cites the two Mistral-class amphibious-assault ships France is building for the Russian Navy as "enablers" that not only help Moscow modernize its armed forces, but provide know-how as well.
Jermalavicius cites the two Mistral-class amphibious-assault ships France is building for the Russian Navy as "enablers" that not only help Moscow modernize its armed forces, but provide know-how as well.
Defense analyst Tomas Jermalavicius, writing recently in the "EU Observer," called on EU states to halt arms sales to Moscow if they are serious about punishing Russia over its intervention in Crimea.

RFE/RL's Farangis Najibullah asked Jermalavicius -- a research fellow at the International Center for Defense Studies, a Tallinn-based think tank -- if it's realistic to expect EU countries to give up weapons deals he estimates are worth billions of dollars.

RFE/RL: What kind of military equipment and military technologies are EU countries currently selling to Russia?

The obvious thing is they're not selling something which adds to firepower of Russian armed forces. But there are technologies, which you may call "enablers" -- enablers in projecting military power, enablers in terms of increasing the maneuverability, and improving command and control of the armed forces.

An example is the Mistral amphibious assault ship that France is building for the Russian Navy. Two are currently being built, and [there are] two other options, which might be built in Russia later on. Examples also include a German brigade-level staff [training] simulation system, which allows the brigade-level staff to train themselves in command-and-control procedures, which also enhances greatly the military capability of a military unit. So, in that sense there are many projects ongoing, which allowed the Russian armed forces to modernize itself [militarily] and increase its capability.

RFE/RL: Why do you suggest that any EU arms deals with Russia should be suspended as part of a sanctions regime against Moscow over the Crimea crisis?

The key point here is that as we see now Russia is using its military force for purposes which violate international law, which create regional instability and conflicts around the perimeter of the Russian Federation. And in that regard we shouldn't do anything which [can] enhance the military strength and power of the Russian Federation.

Defense analyst Tomas Jermalavicius
Defense analyst Tomas Jermalavicius
A simple point, and I understand that in earlier times Europeans viewed Russia as a partner, but I think we should stop seeing Russia as a partner. NATO and the EU should stop seeing [Russia] as a partner in military affairs and security affairs. It's a country which is a troublemaker, and troublemakers should not be rewarded with military contracts.

We don't sell arms and military equipment to China. The EU has an arms-trade embargo [to China], and there were discussions about lifting it, and I'm not sure where they stand now. But China -- compared to Russia -- has not invaded a neighboring country. It has not seized parts of the territories of neighboring countries, but still we do not sell to China any military equipment because we see it as a potential geopolitical rival not only to ourselves but also to the United States -- our key ally in the trans-Atlantic alliance. But we sell to Russia, which is completely illogical.

RFE/RL: How realistic is to expect EU countries that have arms deals with Russia to give up lucrative contracts that boost their economies and allow them to keep their defense industries afloat?

I have serious doubts not only about the military exports and military relationships but also the trade relationships. I mean, there are many business circles who have invested in Russia, or have businesses in Russia or trade with Russia, and the question sanctions, targeted trade sanctions, might be very difficult to push through, [and] I'm not even talking about the military ones.

There are encouraging signs and signals. [French] President [Francoise] Hollande has recently mentioned that a third round of sanctions, if it comes to that, [involving] military cooperation would be on the table. And we might see a suspension, at least, or those [military] contracts being put on hold for a while.

But I'm not very optimistic. Seeing where things are, and where they are heading -- the defense industry in Europe, which is quite fragmented needs contracts, needs money, needs cash, and the European customers cannot provide that because of declining defense budgets. They are looking for customers outside Europe and Russia, apparently, has been quite a good customer to them.

RFE/RL: If they indeed suspend arms transfers to Russia, to what extent would it restrict Russia's military capabilities?

Russians have set out to modernize their armed forces, and they have a very ambitious program which is quite costly. And in certain regards, of course, as we can see the economic situation of the Russian Federation is not the best. Its federal budget will be running a higher and higher deficit, especially if oil prices decline. In that sense the whole modernization program will be put in question.

However, we have to [realize] that with the transfer of arms and technology, and cooperation in the military and technical spheres, we not only enhance their military capability, we also transfer the know-how, or knowledge -- an example being the Mistral ships. If those are built in Russia, that would be a boost to the Russian shipbuilding industry, which has lost its competence in managing such complex, large projects, and in that regard, if that knowledge transfer doesn't take place, that would certainly slow down the modernization program in the Russian armed forces."

RFE/RL: What message would you hope to send by halting arms sales?

If we impose sanctions, whatever the impact is -- minor or not minor -- I think that morally it's wrong to participate in improving the military of a country which is behaving the way it is. Both domestically in terms of repression of human rights -- which is going on now and increasing -- and now externally, in foreign policy. It's morally just not right and probably also strategically very short-sighted.

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