Poor battlefield performance and sanctions on Russia forced African countries to seek military hardware from China

Images of wrecked and abandoned vehicles – casualties in Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – are calling into question the quality and reliability of Russian-made military hardware.

A recent report by the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute found that the conflict has damaged the reputation of Russia’s defence equipment in Southeast Asia, once a source of considerable revenue for the country.

As Russia remains bogged down in its war with Ukraine, China has aggressively captured its share of the arms market in Africa.

Russian arms exports fell by 53 per cent between 2014–18 and 2019–23. The decline has been rapid over the course of the past five years, and while Russia exported major arms to 31 states in 2019, it exported to only 12 in 2023.

Reports from The Economist reveal that Chinese arms exports to Sub-Saharan Africa have surged, surpassing those of Russia, which have plummeted by 44% from 2019 to 2023.

China’s strategic and aggressive marketing tactics, including offering discounts and bonuses, have made it the leading arms supplier to at least 21 African nations. This shift underscores Beijing’s growing influence in the region and Russia’s declining prowess in its defense industry amid sanctions and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

The ongoing war has not only strained Russia’s economy but also exposed vulnerabilities in its military-industrial complex. This situation raises concerns about Russia’s future competitiveness in the global arms market.

China’s ability to fill the void left by Russia demonstrates its strategic ambitions and effective market tactics. Chinese weapons offer a cost-effective and reliable alternative for many African nations, enhancing Beijing’s standing in global defense markets.

The uncertain end to the Ukraine conflict further complicates Russia’s position, making it increasingly difficult to reclaim its market share. This trend could signal a long-term shift in the global arms trade, with China solidifying its role as a dominant supplier in regions once heavily influenced by Russian weaponry.

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