MOSCOW — With Russia's defense industry cut off from Western markets following a series of sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union last summer, Moscow has been hyping up efforts to bolster its presence in Asia.
Russian arms exports already have a firm presence in the region. According to a report released earlier this year by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), more than 60 percent of Russian arms exports go to Asia and Oceania.
India and China in particular command a large percentage of these orders. As a share of total Russian arms transfers from 2010 to 2014, India and China represented 39 and 11 percent of Russian arms transfers, respectively.
As Russia's political and economic relations with the West collapsed last year over Moscow's actions in the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin and senior Russian government officials have been pushing the development of a new Sino-Russian alliance to counter Western influence.
This has resulted in a number of joint-project announcements — from the co-design and production of new military transport aircraft, heavy-lift helicopters and even the sale of advanced Russian rocket engines to the Chinese space program.
“Russia may have a bigger share in the Asian arms markets due to offering attractive conditions for its deals with regional powers,” said Pyotr Topychkanov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank here.
In particular, Russia has a chance to expand deals with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Topychkanov argued.
However, “I wouldn't be overly optimistic regarding Russia's opportunities in Asia. Oil exporters like Vietnam have realized their need to review military demands, and other arms exporters are becoming more aggressive in the arms market, and flexible in establishing contacts with nations they previously viewed as unacceptable trade partners. "
Russia's room to maneuver in the Asian arms market is limited, as its main customers, China and India, are developing domestic military-industrial capabilities to eventually rival Russia's, and US arms remain a strong attraction.
China is rapidly developing in many industrial areas and should be able to ease its dependence on Russian weapons going forward. However, China lags in air defense systems, and is lining up to buy Russia's new S-400 system — a deal announced in April.
At that time, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was quoted by Russian media as saying: "Russia and China are now becoming, as we wanted, not only neighbors but deeply integrated countries.”
In India, Russia is facing stark competition as the Indian government continues to promote a domestic production program that at best demands Russia establish local production lines for its hardware.
At the same time, “India has swung to acquiring American-built aircraft, and has recently announced that it will only procure domestically assembled ships and continues to follow a long trend of assembling vehicles locally,” said Ben Moores, a senior analyst at IHS Jane's.
“I am not sure who else Russia is going to be able to sell to. Vietnam was a key client, but there are numerous Western companies in Vietnam trying to sell right now. Indonesia is a fast-growing market but South Korea is currently doing well there,” he added.
Though Russian media has reported interest in Russian fighter jets from smaller Asian nations like Malaysia, these countries don't have the funds to balance out waning shares in the Indian and Chinese arms markets, Moores said.