Putin’s friend leads Russian effort to sell weapons to U.S. allies

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Russia doesn’t have a history of giving catchy names to its planes. NATO typically does this for them with code words such as flanker, bear and foxtrot.

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That’s changed with Moscow’s latest stealth fighter jet. For the first time ever, Russia has named its aircraft before the United States and its ally: Checkmate.

As far as the name goes, it’s not subtle. As it suggests, Russian weapons manufacturers are making bold claims about the aircraft’s capabilities.


“In terms of technical characteristics, you can really only compare our airplanes [American] F-35,” Sergei Chemezov, a longtime KGB ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and now CEO of Rostec, Russia’s largest defense-industrial holding, told Granthshala News during the 2021 Dubai airshow on Nov.

Chemezov said the name Checkmate was chosen because Russia felt branding was an important part of winning customers in the high-stakes international arms trade. And the name is another sign that Russia – the world’s second largest arms exporter after the United States – is targeting its old rival’s traditional customers and allies.

Russia’s new fighter jet was unveiled with much fanfare earlier this year.AP. via Pavel Bednikov / Sputnik
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A single F-35 is expected to cost around $80 million, and while the price of the Checkmate has yet to be announced, estimates flying around the Russian media suggest that its base configuration costs around $30 million per aircraft. Will be But this is just one part of a bigger financial picture that will potentially include delays and cost escalation, with test flights not expected to begin until 2023.

Next comes the issue of production, maintenance and upkeep—all of the things that make America’s state-of-the-art stealth jets so expensive compared to older airplanes.

The Russian military is already committed to Checkmate’s big, big brother, the Su-57. But he hasn’t bought that jet for any meaningful amounts yet. And it hasn’t even shown keen interest in the new model. This means that Rostec needs a large overseas buyer to fly Checkmate.

“They need an outside sponsor,” said Rob Lee, an analyst and doctoral student specializing in Russia’s military and defense industry at King’s College in London. “One of the issues with many new weapons systems being developed by Russia is that they need to find a foreign sponsor who can pay for R&D, and then the Russian military will buy it domestically.”

Lee said the Russian military does not have a dire need for a fighter jet like the Checkmate. This is where the power politics of Russia’s domestic elite come into play.

“Chemezov is extremely powerful,” said Lee. “Obviously he is very close to Putin, so if there is a fight between Chemezov and [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu, Chemezov are likely to win.”

Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov, second left, is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.Alexey Nikolsky / TASS via Getty Images

Nevertheless, as it was first unveiled in July, the Checkmate is deliberately designed to be exported to Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries that have either opted out of America’s F-35 program or spent Don’t want to do much on a jet.

“Everyone wants to buy something that isn’t too expensive, but doesn’t cost less than the more expensive things from Americans,” Chemezov said.

As a core business strategy, this model has served Russia well in recent years.

A report released last month by the Congressional Research Service said that one of the major reasons potential customers are viewing Moscow is that “Russian weapons may be less expensive and easier to operate and maintain relative to Western systems.” Huh.”

“Business!” Chemezov said in English, when asked about recent Russian efforts to target traditional American allies and customers with this model.

But it is also more than that.

The arms industry is inherently political, and Russia, like the United States, closely coordinates its arms exports with its foreign policy. About 80 percent of the country’s arms industry is under the umbrella of state-owned Rostec. Chemezov, its CEO, is a longtime friend of Putin. They have known each other since serving in the KGB in the 80s.

The Kremlin has made modernizing Russia’s arsenal a major priority amid tensions with the West.Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Weapons sales are a central element of Russia’s foreign policy and are closely controlled by the government to advance economic and strategic objectives,” the CRS report said. “Russian arms sales … promote Russia’s defense and political ties with other countries.”

In recent years, Russia has sold weapons to Egypt – traditionally a US customer – and it is targeting customers in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who purchase billions in American equipment. . Russia still has work to do on that front, but it has already shown that it can persuade NATO allies, such as Turkey, to buy Russian as well.

At the Dubai Airshow, Rostec fully agreed to present Checkmate to potential buyers. It created a large, branded pavilion and presented the jet with an elaborate illumination and laser show. Looking at the presentation, it’d be easy to imagine you were watching a flashy new sports car unveiled—rather than a stealth warplane.

An explanation for the spectacle: The UAE, the host of the airshow, is in the market for stealth fighter jets, and the F-35 is at the top of its shopping list.

But it is unclear whether Moscow can lead the country to checkmate. At the Dubai Airshow, the Biden administration’s top arms sales official, Mira Resnick, told reporters that Gulf states do not want to buy Russians.

“The F-35 is already in the area,” Resnick told The Associated Press, pointing to Israel’s use of American jets. “We want the United Arab Emirates to be able to operate the F-35 in a way that (they) can be our security partner and deter threats, including from Iran.”

Mira Resnik told reporters at the recent Dubai Air Show that Washington was not concerned about the prospect of Russian competition in the region.John Gambrell / AP

But Russia has an opening.

Under the Trump administration, the US and UAE struck a $23 billion arms deal, including 50 F-35s, but sales slowed under President Joe Biden amid concerns about the Gulf Empire’s role in the ongoing Yemen conflict. has occurred.

Russia has already shown that it can take advantage of the rift in US relations in the region.

In 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a $2.5 billion contract to purchase Russia’s latest air-defense missile system, the S-400, despite intense pressure from Washington. This prompted the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey.

Asked whether it would make him happy to sell it to an American ally, Chemezov laughed.

“We also know how to sell and get a customer interested,” Chemezov said. “So, we think we won in this case.”

Credit: www.nbcnews.com /

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