Made In Germany For Russia’s Army

Germany is joining a scramble among West-European producers of military
equipment for Russian orders. NATO and the United States are silent
bystanders to this growing trend, which challenges the Alliance’s
defense posture and planning, as well as the US’s hitherto trend-setting
role in the Alliance.

On February 9 in Moscow, the Chairman of
Dusseldorf-based Rheinmetall Defense, Klaus Eberhardt, signed with
Russian Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, an agreement whereby
Rheinmetall will plan and equip a troop training center in Russia. The
center is to be co-located with Russia’s main artillery training range
at Mulino near Nizhniy Novgorod on the Volga. It will enable Russian
brigade-sized units to test combat readiness for combined-arms
operations, using Rheinmetall’s state-of-the-art equipment to simulate
realistic battlefield conditions and assess troop and staff performance.

In
addition, Russia’s defense ministry and Rheinmetall agreed to negotiate
the establishment of a joint enterprise on Russian territory for
“maintenance, servicing, and modernization of armaments and military
vehicles (‘tekhnika’)” (Interfax, RIA Novosti, February 9;
www.rheinmetall.de).

Rheinmetall becomes the first Western
company to endow Russia with a modern center for troop training.
According to Igor Korotchenko, chief editor of the Natsionalnaya Oborona
[National Defense] journal and member of the advisory Public Council of
Russia’s Defense Ministry, Russian forces will gain access to
best-practice German training methods thanks to the Rheinmetall-equipped
center (RIA Novosti, February 14).

Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s
largest producers of military equipment, was also approached by
Russia’s defense ministry in 2010 for the possible sale of a
manufacturing license for armor plate. This may have some connection
with the February 9 decision (see above) to negotiate toward a joint
enterprise in Russia for modernizing military vehicles (the Russian
military term “tekhnika” customarily denotes armored vehicles).

Rheinmetall
can look back at a tradition of military cooperation with Tsarist and
Soviet Russia, including on training ranges. In 1904-1905, the company
supplied artillery ammunition for the Russian army during the
Russo-Japanese war (www.steinhaeusser.info). Following the 1922 Rapallo
Treaty and 1924 Berlin Treaty of Friendship between Germany and Soviet
Russia (both documents directed against Poland), Rheinmetall became one
of the German concerns that started producing battle tank prototypes,
for testing at Russia’s training range near Kazan on the Volga. Those
prototypes led to mass production of German tanks after 1933
(www.achtungpanzer.com)

Concurrently with the Rheinmetall deal,
Moscow has announced the intention to put Ka-52 combat helicopters on
the French Mistral-class warships it plans to procure. France and Russia
signed the inter-governmental agreement on procurement of the Mistrals
on January 25 (EDM, January 26). Moscow made clear all along that it was
interested in procuring the Mistrals as an offensive platform for
Russian armored vehicles and helicopters. Russia’s military is currently
testing Ka-52 helicopters for take-off and landing aboard amphibious
platforms, preparatory to adapting that helicopter type for use aboard
Mistral-class ships. The Ka-52 is equipped to carry 23 millimeter (mm)
and 30 mm caliber cannon, anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air
missiles, and gravitational bombs of up to 500 kilograms. The Russian
military has chosen to provide these details via a television channel
specifically dedicated to Russia’s “near abroad” (NTV “Mir,” February
13).

Under Russia’s military doctrine and organization, naval
forces are auxiliary to ground forces, to be used in support of ground
operations in the event of hostilities. This indeed was the role of
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the 2008 invasion of Georgia. In a
hypothetical crisis or possible hostilities at some future time, Mistral
warships would enable Russia to threaten some Black Sea or Baltic
country with a coastal landing, in addition to a ground force attack.
The mere prospect of opening a second front from the sea would tie down
some defending forces there, thinning out the defenses against a ground
attack. Essentially, the Mistral can become an instrument for maritime
supremacy and intimidation vis-a-vis Russia’s maritime neighbors,
including NATO member and partner countries. All this belongs in the
realm of military hypothesis and contingency planning, which the Mistral
deployment in the Baltic and Black Sea would significantly complicate
for NATO.

While announcing the Rheinmetall deal, Russia’s defense
ministry reconfirmed the go-ahead to implement the agreement with
Italian Iveco to set up a joint enterprise in Russia for serial
production of Lynx light multi-purpose armored vehicles (Interfax,
February 9). These are gradually to replace Russia’s own BTR-80 and
Tiger armored vehicles. Apart from the Mistral deal, France is
negotiating with Russia over the “Felin” “soldier of the future” combat
kit and Safran-Sagem avionics for Russian fighter planes. These deals
would involve sale of batches of the French equipment to Russia, along
with licenses for joint serial production on Russian territory (EDM,
January 3, 4).

Some in NATO take comfort from assumptions that
Russian personnel lacks the necessary training or even overall military
competence for using advanced Western equipment effectively; or that the
Russian military is incapable of waging a major war, or conducting two
local wars simultaneously. This assessment was offered for discussion in
NATO following Russia’s 2009 Zapad and Ladoga major offensive exercises
near Poland and the Baltic States. The same assessment noted, however,
that Russian forces are undoubtedly capable of conducting one conflict
at a time on Russia’s western peripheries. According to documents just
made public through WikiLeaks, however, a group of Allies including
Poland, the Baltic States, the Czech Republic, and Romania criticized
NATO’s passive response to Russian military exercises, and called for
steps to reinforce the credibility of NATO defense guarantees. The US
ambassador reported sympathetically to Washington about the Central
European allies’ concerns, according to the WikiLeaks material (Die
Welt, February 14).

However, West-European sales of advanced
military equipment to Russia will further strengthen the latter at the
expense of NATO members and partner countries, which Moscow regards as
its “near abroad.” NATO Secretary-General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen,
steadfastly opposes debate within NATO on military sales to Russia. The
Obama administration seems to avoid this issue in order to protect its
“reset” of relations with Russia. The  US Congress can, however, step
into this vacuum of authority, and consider the impact of West European
military sales to Russia on the security of US allies in NATO and
partners in Europe’s East.