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How Russia Became Africa’s Largest Weapons Dealer

by Mark Episkopos | The National Interest

Russia has considerably widened its export lead over the next two biggest players in the African market, France and the United States, over the past two decades.

Here’s What You Need to Remember: As of 2020, Rosoboronexport—Russia’s state arms export agency—accounts for a whopping 49 percent of Africa’s arms imports. Algeria and Egypt are historically Moscow’s two biggest clients, but Russian exporters have pushed in recent years to expand their presence in states including Nigeria, Tanzania, and Cameroon.

Russia’s defense industry is preparing to unveil the new Strela amphibious armored vehicle at ShieldAfrica 2021 exposition, the latest in its ongoing attempts to expand its presence in the lucrative and rapidly growing African arms market.

“Live samples of VPK-Ural armored vehicle, Tigr special armored vehicle in the ‘Raid’ variant, and Strela amphibious vehicle have already been dispatched [for the expo],” announced Russian defense manufacturer Military Industrial Company (MIC). ShieldAfrica 2021 will be held from June 8–10 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, with the organizers reporting as many as 145 exhibitors and 74 official delegations.

First displayed at the Army 2020 exhibition near Moscow, the amphibious Strela is part of a family of six multi-purpose, maneuverable, light armored vehicles. The Strela amphibious variant boasts a payload capacity of 800 kilograms, top speed of 120 kilometers per hour, maximum swimming speed of 7 kilometers per hour, and range of up to 1000 kilometers. Strela models offer partial parts interchangeability with the other vehicles in MIC’s catalog, such as the VPK-Ural. The MIC—Russia’s largest manufacturer of wheeled armored vehicles—maintains that Strela is not only cheap to produce by virtue of its modularity, but has no equal among Russia’s current roster of amphibious vehicles. The Strela family’s utility extends to ease of maintenance. “Due to wide use of parts from commercial cars, the Strela vehicles could be services and repaired at the vast car service station network,” noted an MIC executive. With its cost-efficiency, modularity, and simplified repair process, MIC intends for the Strela amphibious vehicle to make a splash in African arms import markets. The Strela vehicle can reportedly be transported by certain military helicopter models, including the prolific Soviet and now Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopter that continues to be widely used across Africa.

Although military helicopters, strike fighter aircraft, tanks, and various types of anti-tank missiles continue to comprise the vast chunk of Russia’s arms exports to Africa, the Kremlin has been looking to diversify its portfolio into amphibious warfare systems. In 2020, Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern sold a number of BK-10 assault boats to a country in Sub-Saharan Africa. MIC is seeking to make up for lost ground following a drop in transactions amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Such aggressive policy on conquering the African market is caused by a significant decrease in business activity last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, so we are catching up,” MIC CEO Alexander Krasovitsky told reporters.

As of 2020, Rosoboronexport—Russia’s state arms export agency—accounts for a whopping 49 percent of Africa’s arms imports. Algeria and Egypt are historically Moscow’s two biggest clients, but Russian exporters have pushed in recent years to expand their presence in states including Nigeria, Tanzania, and Cameroon. Beyond direct import contracts, Moscow is exploring a local production and distribution arrangement with Angola. Russia has considerably widened its export lead over the next two biggest players in the African market, France and the United States, over the past two decades.

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. This article first appeared earlier this year.

PHOTO: AFP /Andrea Palasciano

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