Putin Lauds Record Year For Russian Weapons Exports - But Is He Overstating It?

The Russian Honor Guard in Moscow
The Russian Honor Guard in Moscow
Ivan Safronov

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin recently announced that this year was a record year for Russian weapons exports, with $15 billion in contracts for next year and $14 billion worth of weapons that have already been sold in 2012.

This past year the main customers for Russian weapons were once again India, Algeria and Vietnam. In addition, this year Iraq joined the club, signing a whopping $4.2 billion dollar weapons contract with Russia. The ultimate fate of that contract, however, is still questionable.

“Of course, Russia will continue to work with its traditional partners in the weapons technology market, but it is no less important for us to enter new markets, to diversify the number of products and services we offer,” President Putin said during an open session of the Commission for Weapons Technology. He mentioned that there was plenty of serious competition in the market. “In order to win the fight, we have to give our weapons manufacturers more possibilities for demonstrating their scientific and technical potential.”

On the whole, however, according to a source who works in the Russian military technology sector, the situation has not really changed from a year ago. “The orders will stay at about the same level for three or four years,” the source said. “In the future, the outlook is even less bright. Unless there are new real, major contracts, such as the one that was signed with Algeria in 2006 (for $7.5 billion), then our portfolio will be cut in half.”

Last year’s weapons contracts brought Russia around $13.2 billion. According to Kommersant’s information, that number includes Russia’s contract with India to modernize an aircraft carrier – but because of problems with the project, the actual aircraft carrier will not be delivered until the last quarter of next year. The aircraft carrier cost $2.33 billion, and if you don’t count it, then Russia’s actual weapons export income for 2012 was only $11.7 billion.

In 2012 the amount of exports in each category of weapons also changed compared to 2011, but the customers have not changed at all. Just as in 2011, Russia’s main weapons clients were India, Algeria and Vietnam. Iraq just joined this group of high-powered customers, having recently signed a $4.2 billion dollar contract for military helicopters and rocket systems. The Iraqi contract represents about 30% of Russia’s contracted weapons exports for the next year.

But there have already been problems with the realization of the Iraqi contract. On November 10, Ali Musavi, an advisor of the Iraqi prime minister, announced that the contract would be canceled due to suspicion of corruption. According to our information, Moscow immediately sent an official inquiry to Baghdad, demanding an explanation, but has not yet received a response. “It is possible that the contract will be frozen for a while, so we really need to know how serious the intentions of our partners are,” Kommersant’s source said. “For starters, they need to figure things out for themselves.”

He also mentioned that a possible weapons technology partnership with Libya was similarly suspended. “They say that they are ready to work with us, but then things just don’t move forward.”

Difficult African and Asian markets

Russia was also not very successful in attempts to enter the market in Angola and Nigeria. “Africa is a difficult region, which for the moment is very difficult for us to crack,” said an official who works on military technology. In fact, according to him, one of the biggest successes in 2012 was the contract with Equatorial Guinea; it is possible that in 2013 the two sides will talk more about military land and air transportation.

This year, Russia and China signed a contract for aircraft movers worth $700 million. But China keeps insisting that it wants a different kind of technology, and the Russian Federal Security Service keeps vetoing the deal. “The Chinese want complex technological elements so that they can make their own version,” Kommersant’s source said. “Selling them the weapon while our own army is not supplied with enough of them is suicide.” In fact, that is the case with all Russia’s potential deals with China.

When he made his presentation to the Commission for Weapons Technology, President Putin said it was extremely important that Russia also established a position in the market for modernizing and repairing military technology. “In a couple of years the cost of a Mi-17B5 helicopter went from $4 million to $17.5 million,” a source close to the military technology system said. “Many customers won’t accept that kind of price increase on principle. At the same time, most of the time the equipment hasn’t been well serviced, which has hampered development of a repair market. Potential clients will start to think that we’re not on the same playing field.” According to that source, fixing that disconnect should be one of Russia’s most important tasks for the next year.

“The risks associated with signing contracts will continue to increase, but the numbers speak for themselves,” said Konstantin Makienko, vice-director of the Center of Strategic Analysis. “The signing of so many large contracts has been largely possible due to Russia’s political influences, and in some cases due to Vladimir Putin personally. He has often personally been the initiative behind these deals.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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