The current meeting between Ukrainian and Russian defense officials and arms dealers, held this time in Sevastopol, could have been even more fraternal than the previous ones, but for a single fact striking a loud, discordant note in the neat system of interrelations: the selection of defense projects showed a noticeable warp by mid-2004, with many already underway and almost as many remaining on paper.
To date, over 700 enterprises in Ukraine and Russia are involved in mutual defense supply cooperation schemes, with more than 13,000 units and components crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border. Without a doubt, this marks a serious accomplishment on the part of both national defense complexes. However, there is reason enough to feel dissatisfied with the situation.
All the points in the agenda may be provisionally divided into three categories: (a) those that are important for Ukraine’s defense potential; (b) issues that the Russian side is most interested in resolving, and (c) issues of mutual interest, where both sides could make good money.
Russian interests are being advanced most successfully. Russia was able to solve the sensitive problem of the unique Nitka testing ground used by naval pilots from Russian aircraft carriers. The same is true of Russia’s interests in the rocket-space sphere. These represent undoubtedly lucrative contracts for Ukrainian enterprises, except that Russia is procrastinating over similar Ukrainian projects.
The sphere of mutual interests is being complemented by the launch of the C-125 air defense project, envisaging modernization and supplies to other countries. Ukrainian and Russian experts upgraded the antiaircraft system (by 70%), until it actually became a new one known as Pechora-2M, which can now be sold to countries other than the signatories. Commercialized technologies may become yet another sphere of mutual interest. Russia’s federal company Rosoboroneksport is insisting on this trend, seeing a practical financial interest there, as well as an opportunity to resolve certain Russian defense priority issues by saving funds by working on joint research and development projects.
The biggest problem, however, is pushing through projects that Ukraine actually needs and which have much to do with its defense potential. Thus, negotiations for the modernization of the MIG-29 fighter project are once again deadlocked. Enacting further R&D projects with Russia — at Ukraine’s expense, of course, as no one here wants to transfer the modernization license to Russia — may solve this problem.
Unless the Ukrainian and Russian military agree on the cost of the MIG-29 modernization project (the Ukrainian Air Force is currently equipped with this fighter model), Ukraine will have to handle the project single-handedly, declared Yaroslav Skalko, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, several days prior to the meeting in Sevastopol. Apparently, modernization will not cost much and will involve mostly Ukrainian plants.
Modernizing Ukrainian air defense equipment is apparently another project that is encountering difficulties getting off the ground. Russia, characteristically, proposes additional joint R&D projects concerning the modernization of the C-300 and medium-range Buk antiaircraft systems. This will take more time and money, of course. Likewise, there is no agreement on modernizing the Ukrainian MI-24 helicopter pool. Some experts recommend turning to France for help, especially since the SAGEM Company has long been offering its assistance. Russia remains reluctant to join efforts with Ukraine in modernizing air-to-air missiles, a matter of special concern to our country.
While official Kyiv is seeking an optimal foreign political strategy, Moscow has long been engaged in practical projects aimed at enhancing Russia’s influence on its Ukrainian neighbor. For the past several years the West has mostly relied on political means in asserting its influence; in contrast, our “Slavic brothers” have been applying different, obviously more effective, methods. The results of the Kremlin politicians’ three-year effort are self-evident. At present, Russia has both the energy-supply and military-industrial edges over Ukraine.
Unlike the West, Russia is taking an increasing interest in a military- industrial rapprochement with Ukraine, a process initiated by none other than Vladimir Putin. During his first visit to this country as president of Russia in 2000, he stressed the need to advance Russian-Ukrainian military-industrial cooperation. Even then certain observers regarded that call for rapprochement as an attempt to find new areas where Ukraine would consider cooperation with Russia advantageous, without a doubt. But such cooperation would be one-sided, denying Ukraine the possibility of running with the hare and chasing with the hounds between the West and East. The year 2004 has seen much of that stratagem accomplished.
Some observers seriously believe that one of the Tuzla issue’s objectives was to show Ukraine that, in a critical situation, it could not count on support from the West. The next task was getting Ukraine’s defense sphere under control. It stood to reason that Ukraine, unable to protect itself by relying on support from the West, would be provided with every kind of assistance after joining an alliance with Russia, in which case Russia’s manufacturers would be prepared to patch up all the holes in Ukraine’s defenses. Ukraine will remain increasingly dependent on Russia as long as it maintains Soviet/Russian-made matйriel. Getting involved in such joint R&D projects with Russia will mean re-channeling resources and allowing Russia actually to supervise all such projects. The AN-70 project, discarded by Russia and not likely to be carried out by Ukraine, relying on its own resources, is graphic proof.
On top of all this, the Russian government appears to be making very good use of the sudden burst of terrorism, by developing new means of influencing neighboring countries, Ukraine included. Russia’s desire to get Ukraine involved in CIS’s military and security structures can only be regarded in this context. If and when it becomes engaged in such supra-governmental antiterrorist structures, Ukraine will suffer increased terrorist risks, and will have to allow Russian special services and units to operate on its territory.
Surprisingly, Ukrainian brass hats and defense industry captains appear increasingly convinced that national defense problems and accessing foreign arms markets can be resolved mainly by combining efforts with Russia-”because the West will never let us in its club.”