Ukraine warns Russia’s biggest arms buyers against buying weapons that do ‘not survive on the battlefield’
- Ukraine’s foreign minister said Moscow’s poor battlefield performance reflected the quality of its arms.
- Kuleba spoke two days after President Vladimir Putin said Russian weaponry was years ahead of its competition.
Ukraine has urged Southeast Asian countries to reconsider their previously sizeable arms procurements from Russia, saying Moscow’s poor performance on the battlefield served as a cautionary tale about the quality of its arms.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s comments came as he was responding to questions from This Week in Asia during a group interview with Asian journalists on Wednesday. Defence analysts said that countries were already diversifying their weapons imports in the aftermath of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
Russia is the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US, but in Southeast Asia, Moscow is tops. In his remarks, Kuleba said the onus was on regional governments to avoid these imports on moral and practical grounds.
“Those who consider buying Russian weapons should first learn from the experience of Ukraine’s experience in destroying these weapons in big numbers,” Kuleba said during the Zoom interview.
“You don’t want to spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, on something that looks very good in an exhibition… but does not survive on the battlefield,” he said.
Kuleba said according to “our information,” Russia is experiencing shortages of advanced, precise and state-of-the-art weapons but have plenty of “old stuff” from the Soviet Union era. “Despite all of their bravado I don’t think they will be ready to sell as much as they would [like] in the previous years,” said Kuleba.
Between 2000 and 2021, Russia’s arms exports to Southeast Asia totalled US$10.87 billion, while the United States shipped US$8.4 billion. China, by comparison, provided US$2.9 billion.
Kuleba also urged Southeast Asian countries to be aware of Moscow embellishing any sales deals, claiming that if one missile was sold, “Russian propaganda will present it” as though 100 were sold.
There is also a “moral argument” for Southeast Asian countries not to buy Russian weapons as they are from a country that uses the same weapons to kill, torture, rape, destroy and conquer in “another part of the world,” said Kuleba referring to Russia’s alleged atrocities in Ukraine.
Zachary Abuza, Professor of Southeast Asian studies at the Washington-based National War College said it was unlikely Russia would be selling many weapons to the region.
“It is hard to imagine that Russia, which has suffered devastating losses and is in dire need to recapitalise their own forces, under international sanctions that limit their access to precision milling equipment, semiconductors and other vital inputs, is going to prioritise selling weapons to second- and third-tier client states,” said Abuza.
Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said the conflict would also affect the supply of weapons systems and spare parts to countries that have bought Russian-made items in three ways: First, export controls imposed by many Western and some Asian countries will make it harder for Russian defence companies to import high-technology components which Russia does not manufacture itself.
Second, Russian armed forces will need military equipment that is being domestically produced to replace its battlefield losses; third, because of financial sanctions, financing military sales with Russia has become more difficult, said Storey.
In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is the most impacted country because 80% of its military equipment is Russian made, Storey noted.
“Most importantly, the Russian defence industrial sector’s problems may lead to a shortage of spare parts for Vietnam’s combat jets which need to be replaced frequently,” said Storey, who added that sourcing replacement parts “will be costly and time consuming” for Vietnam.
In his remarks, Kuleba also warned that Russia was trying to gain “a foothold into the region’s security environment” by deepening ties with Myanmar and this carried regional “security risks”.
Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Myanmar and met military leaders to discuss security and economic issues, according to Russian news agency Tass.
Last month, Myanmar leader Min Aung Hlaing visited Russia and met senior defence officials, with both sides pledging deeper military ties and cooperation on nuclear energy.
Russia is a major arms supplier to Myanmar, which is heavily sanctioned following a military coup in February 2021.
“I am pretty certain Russia is reaching out to Myanmar not only because of the prospect of bilateral [ties] but because Russia wants to put its foot into the regional security environment and use Myanmar as a leverage … also in their relations with India and other neighbouring countries,” said Kuleba.
“In the end, the presence of Russia next to you will be your problem and your national security risk,” said Kuleba.
The top Ukraine diplomat also touched on the United Nations-brokered grain export deal that has allowed the country to resume exports from its Black Sea ports. Ukraine has shipped 450,000 tonnes of grain since the signing of the initiative on July 22.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil, but Russia’s invasion of the country and a naval blockade of its ports have halted shipments, sending food prices to skyrocket and shortages in some countries. Some grain is being transported through Europe by rail, road and river, but is insufficient to transport agricultural commodities in huge numbers.
“Our grain is badly needed in various parts of the world. I don’t want to prioritise anyone but our main consumers are in Africa and Asia,” said Kuleba, adding that the goal was to reach 3 million tonnes of exports a month.
“We are 100% committed to the functioning of this grain corridor,” he said. “As badly as our consumers want to receive our food, we want to export it equally badly because we need our farmers to start the new agricultural cycle, to empty silos, to bring revenues into the country that is fighting a war.”
He said the success of this undertaking depends on whether Russia will put the corridor under threat. “So far, it more or less works.”