Pantsir-SA missile and artillery weapon systems drive during the Victory Day Parade in Red Square in Moscow, Russia
Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
As nations jockey for geopolitical influence, Russia has aggressively interfered in other states around the globe to exert its influence. Looking beyond its borders to Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, Russia seeks to influence global and regional policy through arms sales, the use of private military contractors, political interventions, social media and disinformation campaigns, and military force. Its 2014 military invasion Crimea and Ukraine, interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, poisonings abroad of regime opponents and shielding the Syrian government from international criticism for its use of chemical agents against the Syrian people are just some of the ways Russia has exerted its influence in the international system.
Researchers from the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD) are committed to understanding why and by what methods and means Russia is engaging in its long-term malign interference in the international system of states. On this site you will find our latest research and commentaries on these efforts as well as our work on Russia's economy, environment, and technology sector, and its complex and changing relations with NATO and the world. You will also find analyses that examine the policies through which the international community can — and does — push back.
Where Does Russia Export Arms and Security Services?
Researchers have compiled open source information to create maps to track where Russia markets and sells military equipment.
The war in Ukraine is straining Russia's defense production, which is having downstream effects on Moscow's ability to export arms. China has the opportunity, the incentive, and the capacity to gain from Russia's losses. As Russia relinquishes more of its share of the global arms market, there is not much standing in the way of China's success.
Moscow's desire for additional fighters in Ukraine has created a breeding ground for Russian private military company (PMC) development. This explosion of what are essentially private armies is not only shaping the battlefield in Ukraine; it could have devastating impacts long after this conflict ends.
Squeezed by sanctions and pressed to replace equipment destroyed in Ukraine, Russia's aerospace sector isn't likely to have combat aircraft to sell, even if it wants to. If purchasing countries start to change their minds and invest in drones and other less-expensive precision guided munitions, the market for Russian combat aircraft might start to rapidly decline.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, its diplomatic missions began circulating some particularly fantastical lies. It's tempting to write off such claims as cartoonish propaganda. But Russia is making similarly outrageous claims to the United Nations and other international forums. Such maneuvers could dangerously undermine international arms control agreements.
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the West's support for Kyiv has been tempered by an ace up Vladimir Putin's sleeve: the potential use of nuclear weapons. But other countries are taking notice, which could imperil world stability even further.
China's approach to private security contractors is much more limited in scope and effects than Russia's use of private military contractors. But indicators suggest that Chinese planners see benefits in expanding and maturing China's use of private contractors, which creates the potential for dangerous results for China and the rest of the world.
During a Moscow air show last summer, Russia rolled out a mockup of the Su-75, a multipurpose fighter-bomber designed to compete in the global marketplace. But given the Russian aerospace sector's difficulties in developing, let alone delivering, advanced combat aircraft, prospective buyers should consider a range of options to meet defense needs.
Why is Russia's main export to Africa advanced conventional weapons at a time when other needs are so great? African leaders might think twice about aggressive Russian arms pitches and engagement of mercenaries, and prioritize measures to stem the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage economic growth.
Actions taken to curb Russian malign activities around the globe appear to be affecting Russia's marine and aerospace engine sector. Efforts to arrest Russia's bad behavior might gain momentum if more countries followed the lead of Norway, which chose supporting sanctions over short-term economic gain.
In response to recent Russian cyber espionage, interference in U.S. elections, and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, President Biden announced a new round of sanctions and expulsions of Russian officials. But will these sanctions hurt Russia's defense industry enough to curb the Kremlin's behavior?
Russia's Su-57 aircraft has been in development since 2002 and is considered a key part of Russia's arms export industry as a fifth-generation fighter. Despite continued Russian efforts to sell the aircraft, it is unlikely that a fully developed and full production–ready Su-57 will be available for sale before the late 2020s.
Many countries do not fully appreciate that effective air defense requires a networked system and not just one missile system component. Getting the true defensive value out of the S-400 surface-to-air system requires additional components that add costs and complexities.
Considering the COVID-19 pandemic and inevitable economic difficulties, national governments should be encouraged to weigh their military requirements in a more cost-effective manner. Countries need to think strategically about the life cycle costs of equipment, not just the original purchase price.
The Philippines has embarked upon a multi-phase, multi-year modernization of its armed forces, but some of the acquisition decisions appear to be driven by political symbolism rather than responsible military decisions. Using military procurement for political symbolism and paying a high price for it takes resources away from other pressing national security and domestic needs.
Countering Russian arms sales could reduce Russia's influence on other nations as well as revenue that indirectly enables its irresponsible international behavior. The United States and its allies need to provide credible diplomatic and military alternatives, and work with countries to address their security needs.
RAND defense analyst Ryan Bauer discusses the variety of developmental challenges that the Russian Su-57 fifth-generation jet has experienced, decreasing the likelihood of Russia exporting the aircraft for a number of years despite continued marketing efforts.
Indian civilian and military leadership face investment choices that go beyond the decision to buy the S-400. To be effective, the S-400 needs to be deployed within a larger integrated air and missile defense system and requires a very skilled military workforce to operate. Otherwise, it will prove to be a costly and expensive military extravagance.
Related RAND Research on Russia
The RAND Corporation is renowned for its landmark studies of the Soviet government and military during the Cold War. Today, RAND research explores Russia's economy, environment, and technology sector, and its complex and changing relations with NATO, Europe, Asia, and the United States.
In Ukraine, Syria, and other parts of the world, private military contractors are operating on behalf of, yet are ostensibly separate from, the Russian state. How can the United States and its allies counter these adversary-employed private military actors?
Over the past year, the Russian military has sustained staggering losses—over 100,000 casualties, thousands of pieces of armored equipment, and several squadrons of fighter jets and helicopters. But Russia isn't stopping. Newly mobilized Russian troops, knowing they are being used as cannon fodder, have made public appeals to be spared.
Russia's experience in Ukraine one year in is an example of what happens when a nation tries to fight a war without fully considering the logistics and sustainment that go alongside such a fight. The consequences for failing to fully consider these concepts drove Russia into a prolonged conflict for which it was already ill-prepared a year ago, with increasingly dire consequences for its future.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could extend his presidency until 2036. Whatever he decides, U.S. officials should prepare for the future succession by sending clear signals on policy redlines and studying Russian elite attitudes. The choice of a successor will fundamentally affect U.S. foreign and security policy.
Even with an understanding of what Russia considers to be redlines, predicting its reactions is challenging. An analysis of past instances of Russian escalation—and instances when redlines were crossed but Russia did not respond—offers guidance for U.S. and NATO deterrence efforts.
Since 2008, the Russian military has become more capable, not only of defending its territory but also of launching invasions against its neighbors. Russia's defense spending is now in decline, but NATO policymakers and defense planners should continue to monitor its military improvements.
Articles Translated from English
RAND researchers have written a variety of articles discussing the cost and effectiveness of Russian weapons systems, many of which have been translated into languages other than their original English, including (Arabic) العربية , हिन्दी (Hindi), and Melayu (Malay).
This project to explore the ways in which Russia exerts its global influence received U.S. government foreign assistance funding provided by the U.S. Department of State. The project is led by John Parachini for the RAND National Security Research Division.