Impact of US and allied sanctions regimes on Russian arms sales

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In this report, the authors examine Russian arms exports and the effects of sanctions designed to discourage purchases from third countries and increase the costs of future Russian malicious interference in other nation states. The authors draw from publicly available information compiled in a database to illustrate when US diplomatic engagement or the prospect of US sanctions has prompted third countries to reconsider imports of Russian weapons. The data set used for this report contains 65 cases in 33 countries of Russian arms export negotiations and sales, beginning in July 2017 and ending in May 2021; These cases illustrate that, as US officials acknowledge, it is difficult to accurately determine the monetary value of lost Russian arms sales due to US diplomatic efforts backed by the prospect of third-party sanctions.

However, there are several examples of countries that apparently refrained from buying Russian weapons and then, due to the cold effect of possible sanctions, considered and chose not to do so. Analyzes of these cases suggest that diplomatic outreach to arms-buying countries is likely to be most effective in recognizing the legacy of Russian arms exports; the desire to assert independence from Russia and / or the United States; and the availability of suitable, competitive alternatives to meet the buyer’s security needs. In order to better meet the objectives of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the United States must ensure that foreign officials and the public receive a story that focuses primarily on the harm caused by Russia’s malicious behavior rather than the threat of US sanctions.

This research was sponsored by the US Department of State and conducted within International Security and Defense Policy Center of RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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