The war in Ukraine displaces Russia and positions China as an arms exporter

FILE PHOTO. Chinese President Xi Jinping, after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, China (Reuters) (TINGSHU WANG /)

As the invasion Ukraine enters its second year and Russia prioritizes its frontline military needs over exports, many other African countries that used to buy most of their weapons from Moscow began to look for alternative suppliers.

On the entire African continent, almost half of the military equipment, including tanks, warships, fighter jets and helicopter gunshipscomes from Russia.

As detailed by the South China Morning Post, Russian military hardware is so dominant in Africa that sanctions on Russia would have a major impact on those countries’ ability to maintain and repair the equipmentwhich would probably open a door for Chinese exports.

According to Stockholm International Institute for Peace Research, Algeria is the largest African importer of Russian arms -including planes, air defense systems, missiles, ships and armored vehicles-, but the country also purchases part of its weapons from China, France and Germany.

The Institute’s data shows that, between 2008 and 2021, Algeria accounted for 12% of Russian arms exports, behind only China and India.

Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan and Angola are other major African importers of Russian arms.

But in the last year the Chinese market began to grow.

The main buyers of Chinese arms in Africa were Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tanzania. African countries buy everything from armored vehicles to drones from the Xi Jinping regime, but it is in small arms and light weapons, such as the Chinese Type 56 assault rifle.

The media reported last year that Algeria was in talks with China to acquire SY-400 ballistic missile systems. Over the past decade, it has purchased military hardware such as PLZ-45 155mm self-propelled howitzers, SR-5 multiple launch rocket systems, and Type-07 and WZ-502G armored personnel carriers from China.

Jason Li, associate researcher of the study center’s East Asia program The Stimson Centerbased in Washington, stated for the SCHMP that Russia dominated arms sales to Africa between 2017 and 2021, with a 44% market share, followed by the United States, with 17%, and China, with 10%.

But in 2014, when Russia seized control of Crimea, Russian arms exports fell 31% on-year and its arms exports to Africa also plummeted, reflecting “concern over its own security issues,” Li said.

Russia prioritizes its frontline military needs over exports
Russia prioritizes its frontline military needs over exports (SPUTNIK /)

He further explained that during and after the Russian annexation of Crimea, Chinese arms exports to Africa continued to grow, peaking in 2016. “If Crimea is any precedent, Chinese arms exports to Africa are set to rise regarding Russian arms sales,” Li said.

Moses Khanyile, director of the Center for Military Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa, he claimed late last year that the vacuum created by sanctions on Russia would have to be filled by other arms suppliers. And he said China was one of five countries, along with the United States, France, Germany and Russia, that accounted for 76% of global arms exports between 2016 and 2020.

I affirm that China is likely to be one of the main beneficiaries, as it already accounts for 13% of African arms imports.

“This could be supported by other trade and diplomatic relations that China already has with African countries, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation,” Khanyile said.

Russian Security Council Vice President Dmitry Medvedev visits a tank and armored vehicle repair plant in Saint Petersburg, Russia, January 10, 2023 (Reuters)
The Vice President of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, visits a tank and armored vehicle repair plant in Saint Petersburg, Russia, January 10, 2023 (Reuters) (SPUTNIK /)

Gustavo de CarvalhoSenior Research Fellow on Russia-Africa Ties in the African Governance and Diplomacy Program of the South African Institute of International Affairs, stated in dialogue with the SCHMP that China’s engagement with African countries had increased significantly in the past two decades. He added that the Russia-Ukraine conflict may have allowed China to expand its arms sales in Africa, but that other factors, such as China’s growing military-industrial complex and demand from African countries, are also contributing to that trend.

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