- The Russian military’s poor showing in Ukraine cast a long shadow over Russia’s Army 2022 expo in August.
- The arms convention is supposed to show off the best of Russia’s weapons, but the most notable were the weapons Russia is being forced to buy from the developing world.
- Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, a different, arguably more accurate Russian arms show is taking place.
Russia’s “Army 2022” arms expo took place again this year, and unlike previous years, hardly anyone noticed. That’s just as well, because back in Ukraine, Russia has lost aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles at disastrous levels. The weapons Russian citizens took selfies with in Patriot Park, Moscow, have performed poorly, and the market prospect for Moscow’s wares is as bleak as its economy.
Army 2022 is one of the largest arms bazaars in the world. Held every year at Patriot Park in Kubinka, just outside Moscow, Army 2022 is a chance for Russian defense contractors to show off their latest in military technology. Companies like Uralvagonzavod, Kamaz, and others exhibit their products—tanks, cruise missiles, and trucks and light armored vehicle—in indoor and outdoor pavilions, hoping to attract the attention of Moscow’s bureaucrats and foreign buyers with hard cash.
Arms sales to foreign countries are a much needed source of national income. Russia reported $14.6 billion in arms sales in 2021. That’s nothing compared to the $138.2 billion in arms sales the United States reported during the same time period, but defense makes up about the same percentage of exports for both countries. India, China, Algeria, Egypt, and Vietnam are the top consumers of Russian weapons. This year, according to Defense News, Russia made $9 billion in arms sales at the expo, and its forecasted arms sales for 2022 will likely only hit $10.9 billion.
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The Ukraine war has likely undercut Moscow’s arms sales. Russian tanks, ships, and armored vehicles have been regularly exploding on television screens worldwide for months, making them unattractive goods. Seven months into Russia’s decision to declare war on Ukraine, the Russian Army lies in shambles, with a reported 48,000 dead and likely twice as many wounded. Independent monitors have counted nearly 6,000 pieces of equipment lost, including 1,118 tanks, with the true number undoubtedly higher.
The Ukraine war is laying bare the shortcomings of Russian weapons, some decades old. Russian forces struggle to shoot down small battlefield tactical drones used by Ukrainian defenders to drop anti-tank grenades from the sky. Russian tanks like the T-72B3 have no defense against Western anti-tank weapons such as Javelin or NLAW, which strike the thin turret roof armor, bypassing a tank’s heaviest defenses. Many Russian artillery pieces, like the 2S3 “Akatsiya” 152mm self-propelled howitzer, are of an older type that are slower to fire and have shorter ranges than their Western equivalents.
Much of the equipment losses suffered by the Russian Army have been the result of corruption, poor training, horrendous leadership, incompetent planning, inadequate supply, and bad morale. Russian weapons have significant flaws, but they are not the worst in the world. Ukrainian forces have been perfectly happy to turn around captured Russian weapons and use them on the invaders.
The problem with Russian weapons is that they consistently finish in second place, bested by newer, better, and typically Western-made military equipment. In the Gulf War, U.S. and coalition forces smashed the Soviet-equipped Iraqi Army with few losses of their own. Russian weapons have also been used in war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, to target civilians to turn the population against their government. This too has backfired, rallying Ukrainians and casting Moscow and its weapons in an awful light.
Russia’s failure on the battlefield may not gain it any new buyers, but it’s likely old ones, like India and Algeria, won’t retreat from their arsenals of Moscow-supplied arms. Russian weapons have faced disastrous PR before, when American tanks smashed Soviet-made ones in Kuwait and Iraq. After a brief period of humiliation Russia, its usual buyers went on as though nothing ever happened. Russia’s Army expo will always be a destination for those equipping their armed forces on a tight budget.
Meanwhile, another arms show was going on at the same time as Army 2022. Ukraine sent a number of captured Russian weapons on a tour of Eastern European cities, especially those that contributed military aid after the invasion, as a thank you for the support and to drum up future aid. The wrecked Russian tanks, artillery, and armored vehicles—their dark green paint burned off by fire and steel hides oxidized to a bright burnt orange—are virtually a before-and-after to the same vehicles on display at Russia’s expo.
Army 2022 was the arms show Russia wanted, but the one going on in Ukraine tells a different story.