The limited access to the information field of the Russian Federation and the secrecy of data on the enemy's potential only fuel the interest of Ukrainian society in the state of the aggressor country's military-industrial complex.
Valentyn Badrak, Director of the Army Research Center, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, told Ukrinform whether the Kremlin has put its economy on a military track, how Western sanctions affect the capabilities of the Russian military-industrial complex, whether the enemy's forces are running out, and whether Western partners are providing enough arms to Ukraine.
RUSSIA HAS MANAGED TO PUT ITS MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX ON A MILITARY TRACK
- Among the various sectors of the Russian economy, the military-industrial complex feels the most confident, because its funding is stable and generous. Mr. Valentyn, can we say that the Kremlin has put the country on a military footing?
- Russia managed to put its military-industrial complex on a war footing by the end of 2022. In fact, the entire economy was restarted and the economy was restructured for a long-term war. What made this possible? There are several things: it was possible because Western sanctions were practically ineffective. If before the large-scale invasion they did not work at all, they were conditional, then after February 2022, I believe, the sanctions were in place in a limited way. And this is confirmed by the introduction of many sanctions packages - for example, the EU is already introducing its tenth or eleventh sanctions package. All of this happened because of the West's policy of doing everything gradually, step by step, and seeing whether it works or not. We also need to take into account the power and scale of the work of Russian special services in finding various alternative ways.
- Are we talking about alternative ways to circumvent such sanctions?
- Yes. The first way is to accelerate import substitution. Since the beginning of 2023, our experts have been finding more and more Russian-made components and assemblies in equipment. They may be low-tech, they may use parts from various civilian vehicles, but one way or another, the number of import-substituting units has increased. The second alternative way is to look for partners. Russia has different partners, such as China, which allows it to obtain some components, microelectronics, etc. The second category of countries is the countries through which imports to Russia are made. For example, Kazakhstan and Armenia buy microelectronics, and then it goes to Russia. And it is not necessarily through governments - governments may not support such supplies to Russia, but it happens through private companies, civilian enterprises. For example, on April 18, The New York Times published an article citing various sources claiming that Armenia imported 515% more chips and processors from the US and 212% more from the EU in 2022 than in 2021. Then 97% of these products were exported to Russia. This was re-export, and the Americans found out about it. The same was true for other countries. For example, Kazakhstan. As for China, the traffic there continued, but it decreased, according to American experts, by 50%, so as not to cause a resonance regarding the supply of components to Russia.
Another example. The German publication Der Spiegel reported that there was a boom in sales of goods to Russia's neighboring countries, which means that the publication hints at a possible circumvention of sanctions. There is a lot of evidence that these sanctions have been very weak.
- Is it possible to prevent this?
- In May, the G7 will consider a total ban on exports to Russia. This may completely change the sanctions regime, and only medicines and food will be allowed to enter Russia, and if anyone dares to supply other products, they will face secondary sanctions. Secondary sanctions, particularly from the United States, are effective. For example, India is afraid of secondary sanctions, and therefore cannot agree on the import of S-400 Triumph systems from the Russian military-industrial complex, which are powerful air defense systems. The reason is that India refuses to pay in dollars because it is afraid of sanctions, and Russia is not satisfied with other currencies, so there are problems. So, very interesting things are happening. If secondary sanctions are imposed not only by the US but also by the EU, and other countries join in, they will act powerfully, creating a serious system of export and import control.
RUSSIA PRODUCES UP TO 150 TANKS A YEAR, BUT HAS THOUSANDS OF OLD TANKS TO REPAIR
- What are the signs that Russia is still producing weapons and equipment despite the sanctions?
- Let's take certain nomenclatures, for example, the T-90M tank. In early 2023, the Army Recognition analytical group reported that a new batch of the latest T-90M tanks had been delivered to the troops, and it was noted that a significant number of these tanks were produced at Uralvagonzavod. It is difficult to say how many, but in the last 2 weeks alone, there have been reports that the Defense Forces of Ukraine destroyed three T-90M tanks, meaning that they are entering the combat zone and being used. Although, as we can see, they are burning quite well. The technology of this equipment has definitely dropped, and many analysts agree that T-90M tanks have been fitted with old Soviet night vision sights instead of modern ones, the mass production of which is impossible at this stage.
There are different opinions on the volume of their production. For example, the data of the Western media and the data of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future are very different. I think that we can talk about Uralvagonzavod's ability to produce about 20, no more than 30 tanks per month. Vitaliy Nemilostivyi, one of the leading tank-building experts who ran the Malyshev plant in Kharkiv, said that he had visited Uralvagonzavod before the war and that by 2013 it had a fairly powerful production facility, with the latest machines and so on. Back then, the plant was producing up to 120 tanks a year. But now everything has been accelerated, and he predicted that we could be talking about an annual production of more than 150 tanks. This is a very close figure if we are talking about the annual output of new tanks. But we also need to mention the nearly a dozen armored vehicle repair plants in Russia that restore old equipment, which is quite a lot. According to various sources, there may be from 11,000 to 29,000 old tanks in Russia. In my opinion, the point is to make at least some equipment out of the old ones, relatively speaking, one out of three tanks. But a significant number of them are being produced. According to experts from the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, as of February, a significant number of tanks were concentrated in the prepared reserve - up to 1600-1650 units, which is more than there were before the large-scale invasion (in January 2022, Russia concentrated about 1100 tanks along the border with Ukraine).
- How good and modern are these tanks?
- In my opinion, Russia is significantly losing the technological effectiveness of all its equipment, both tanks and other armored vehicles. There have been reports that Russia lacks rubber to produce tires for tanks, lacks bearings, etc. There is the Sosna-U complex, where French thermal imagers from Thales were previously used. And while in 2022 Ukrainian defenders found these thermal imagers on Russian equipment and accused the French of this, now there is no such data, and we can assume that Russia no longer has such high-tech components and assemblies. This means that the tanks that Ukraine is getting, such as Leopard or Challenger, and I hope we will get Abrams, and there is also information that we may get French Leclerc tanks, all of which are much more powerful and technologically advanced than the tanks of the Russian Federation. Although there will be more enemy tanks in number.
THE WEAPONS PROVIDED TO UKRAINE WILL NOT BE ENOUGH TO LIBERATE THE CRIMEA AND DONBAS THIS YEAR
- Can we say that their numerical superiority could become a problem on the battlefield?
- We can't count on the Battle of Kursk or a tank battle right now - it's not going to happen. Ukraine's task is to obtain high-precision weapons and shoot Russian equipment, concentrations of personnel, command posts, and logistics centers at considerable distances. What is the main thing now? Ukrainian weapons, including tanks, have a longer range and greater accuracy than Russian weapons. That is, they can operate at greater distances than Russian equipment can, and this is an important point of the offensive.
General Cavoli, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe, says that Ukraine has received 98% of the weapons it needs for the offensive. No, this is not true at all, it is either a distortion of information or Cavoli is talking about the weapons that have been announced. Because we have not yet received the Leopard-1 tanks that are being repaired, we have not received the American Abrams tanks that we were actually promised by the end of the year, perhaps a little earlier in the fall. Of course, we will need all of this, but there is no clear confirmation of the French Leclerc tank - our partners have hinted that we may or may not get it. But it's not just about tanks, it's about long-range missiles and airplanes that have to support the offensive. And so far, we have not been provided with long-range missiles. And the reason, in my opinion, is that there is no final conviction to support Ukraine in full de-occupation this year. This can happen in stages, in waves. That is, a certain amount of equipment has been provided that will ensure a successful first stage of the offensive, i.e., achieving de-occupation of the territory of Ukraine at the level of February 24, 2022. But Crimea and Donbas are out of the question for now. And in the West, in my opinion, they are thinking and watching: if this happens easily and quickly enough, then, in principle, they can continue to support it, but if it stalls, then they should demand a freeze on the war, as if Ukraine should be content with what it has. Now, we know that 17% of Ukraine's territory is occupied.
RUSSIA IS NOT CAPABLE OF PRODUCING HIGH-TECH WEAPONS
- Returning to the topic of the nomenclature of enemy equipment: besides tanks, what other data is available on other types of equipment and weapons?
- If we take the Lancet unmanned barrage munitions, which are killer drones, back in 2021, Russian experts themselves said that it was impossible to establish mass production because there were too many Western components. But they did it, and they did it because the sanctions worked very poorly, and in fact, this Lancet was and is being produced. Because they use this Lancet. It has been analyzed and we see that a certain amount of Russian components have appeared there, including various Western components that they managed to get. That is, we see that Russians are producing tanks, killer drones, and missiles. At the same time, experts say that if field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are prevented from entering Russia, they will not be able to produce either cruise missiles such as the X-101 or Lancets.
Russians make various statements that should be analyzed but not taken literally. For example, on February 18, the head of the Rostekhnologii Corporation, Sergei Chemezov, who is close to Putin, gave an interview and said that Russia has managed to increase the production of hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, increased the production of helicopters from 150 to 300 this year, and that they produce several dozen times more ammunition for certain positions. But at the end of April, The Washington Post provided certain graphs according to which Russia has reduced the use of ammunition in the war: if in 2022 Russia used 20-30,000 rounds of ammunition per day, now it is about 10 thousand rounds. This shows that not everything Chemezov says is true. However, ammunition is still being produced and supplied. By the way, Ukraine has also reduced the amount of ammunition used per day. But Ukraine uses them more rationally. We use "smart" ammunition, which is very expensive - from 60 to 100,000 dollars per round, such as SMArt, Excalibur, they hit 80 kilometers with high accuracy.
The only question is that Russia, if it puts 10 of its tanks against one Leopard, they call for fire and try to exhaust us physically, to force us to use a lot of ammunition. Similarly, Shahids are used to make Ukraine use expensive missiles by shooting them down.
But now the situation is changing, and there is positive information that Germany has started producing ammunition for Gepards, which we are expected to receive in August.
Coming back to Chemezov, there is another option - helicopters. On the one hand, he says that production will be doubled in 2023, but on the other hand, there are reports that Russia has a severe shortage of VK-2500 engines, which are used for Ka-50 and Ka-52 helicopters, and this is a huge problem for them. Given that all Russian helicopters use two engines, Russia is capable of producing 150 helicopters a year (if we completely forget about the needs of civilians), not 300, as Chemezov claimed. By the way, these are the engines that Motor Sich used to produce, but they tried to move production to their territory. Just like the production of gas turbines for warships, which were produced by Mykolaiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt. It turns out that they are technologically incapable of producing the kind of high-tech equipment they used to import from us. Even if they manage to speed up production, they will lose their technological efficiency.
Similarly, the number of non-combat losses of equipment in Russia will increase. They will just keep falling. Just the other day I heard that a Russian helicopter crashed, whether it was a medical or emergency helicopter, it doesn't matter, the main thing is that they crash.
- Are the Russians making progress in aircraft construction?
- At the end of December 2022, the Russians reported that they had handed over an ultra-modern Su-57 fighter jet to the army. Experts believed that it was four such fighters. We have not seen any of them on the battlefield, and there is great doubt that they exist at all. But if they do exist, they are like a T-90M tank. It looks like a new piece of equipment from the outside, but inside it has big problems.
Speaking of the Su-57, they have not been able to enter production for 12 years - during this time, there were only two experimental aircraft, one of which crashed near Komsomolsk-on-Amur in 2019. And the reason was the imperfect control system of the aircraft. This means that the engine for the plane will be old, because they failed to make a new one, the control system will be imperfect, the avionics will be old, and finally, they do not have stealth technology. Therefore, they can formally say that it is a new airplane, but in reality it is an airplane with old problems that has not been finalized.
If they do make hypersonic missiles "Kinzhal", they will be missiles that will probably not confirm their accuracy, which is the main thing. Of course, they will be frightening and will smash our peaceful cities instead of military targets.
To summarize, we can say: first, Russia has managed to establish production under Western sanctions, and is even increasing production for certain items, but it is experiencing critical shortages of various components, from VK-2500 engines to microchips, bearings, and rubber, in other words, it is short of everything. And now everything will depend on the extent to which the international community will be able to create a system of international control over compliance with the sanctions. This is very, very important! And in fact, the whole world is now facing a dilemma - whether sanctions can be imposed and enforced at all, whether it can be done or not. Until now, sanctions have been in place in a limited way, although there have been powerful signals that they are working. For example, Russia has recently classified the decline in oil production, which means that sanctions are still in effect in all areas. Experts predict a 24% drop in oil production in 2023. This point is important for us because oil and gas allowed Russia to buy weapons.
I haven't yet mentioned the third way, the alternative way, which I mentioned at the beginning - third countries with which Russia used to trade. Such as Myanmar, African countries, from which it simply squeezes everything. From such countries, Russia takes old equipment: for example, in Belarus, it has already emptied all the storage facilities, ammunition depots, and equipment by 70%. But if we talk about new equipment, here is another example: Kurganmashzavod in Russia has actually admitted that it cannot produce BMP-2 and offers supposedly new equipment, such as a light 18-ton Sprut tank with a 125 mm cannon. Experts have analyzed it and say that this tank is actually a heavy infantry fighting vehicle, something between a tank and an infantry fighting vehicle. It is unprotected, has aluminum armor - in fact, the same armor as BMP-3, which were easily burned by Ukrainian defenders with simple old-style grenade launchers, even without using powerful Javelins. According to experts, if such a vehicle encounters something more powerful than a large-caliber machine gun, it can be easily disabled.
IT IS IRRESPONSIBLE TO SAY THAT RUSSIA HAS ENOUGH SUPPLIES FOR A YEAR OF WAR
- I would also like to know about the establishment of production of military uniforms and ammunition in Russia, given that mobilization is ongoing there. Are their facilities up to the task or are they still looking for help from third countries?
- They are probably getting it right, but the fact that there are huge orders in China, Belarus, and Iran - and we remember that they were buying helmets and body armor from Iran - means that Russia has big problems here, too. They don't really care about this, though, because for them the use of human mass is not a problem, it's not a headache. The mobilization resource in Russia is actually very large, several million people, but the issue of specialists is very acute. We recently had information that Russia has started accelerating the graduation of officers, not 4 years of training, but now they are graduating them quickly. What does this mean? It means a shortage of low-level officers.
When they announced in March that they would be recruiting 400,000 additional contract soldiers, they emphasized that artillerymen and combat vehicle drivers were needed most of all. Again, this is an indication that they have a large shortage of these categories. In addition, there is a very large shortage of qualified pilots, both combat aircraft and helicopters. We're not talking about long-range aviation, which operated from the territory of Russia, but if we take Su-30, Mig-31, Su-35 airplanes, Mi-28 and Ka-52 helicopters, they have very significant problems. Of course, it is irresponsible to say that Russia has enough reserves for two months of war, or that Russia can fight for another year. it is groundless and irresponsible. Russia has a huge resource, it has the ability to mobilize, and it has an authoritarian regime.
At the same time, Ukraine also has problems. For example, we do not have an accelerated integration of our defense industry into the military build-up, except for very powerful state-owned enterprises and very powerful private enterprises. That's why our Ministry of Defense is mainly aimed at either importing something, including for foreign resources, or receiving something as aid. But when it comes to licenses, we ignore the experience of Poland, for example. Over the past two decades, Poland has become the country that has been developing its defense potential most dynamically. It's not just about Polish purchases of tanks and airplanes - both South Korean and American - it's also important what they do under licenses. For example, the Crab self-propelled artillery system is made under licenses, partly from South Korea (chassis) and partly from the UK (turret). And it turns out that Ukraine has purchased these "Crabs" for $640 million, a huge batch. And the question is, can't Ukraine produce them under license? It's clear that some companies have suffered, but what did we do before, why didn't we do it for the last 10 years? And now Ukraine is only working towards relocating production to Central and Eastern Europe, which is dangerous, by the way, in that highly skilled engineers and workers may stay there.
- Having analyzed the state of the Russian military-industrial complex, can we say that we will be able to defeat the enemy?
- We can fully expect to put pressure on Putin's criminal regime. Putting pressure on them with powerful sanctions and restrictions on energy exports is the first; powerful technological restrictions so that they do not produce new weapons is the second; and powerful political isolation that should lead to the elimination of the Putin regime is the third. If we do all of this, we can say that thanks to Ukraine, a new system of international security has begun to take shape.