Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly been forced to reprioritize his long-term military industrial projects to equip and arm his troops in Ukraine.
Putin has been left reeling from sanctions that have impacted Russia’s production of weapons, while his botched mobilization has seen well-publicized complaints from drafted troops about a lack of gear. Cut off from the global supply chain, Russia is turning to Iran for drones and reportedly to North Korea for munitions.
The Kremlin website revealed on November 10 that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu have been tasked “to meet the needs” of Russia’s armed forces.
They were ordered to outline by November 14 how they would “improve the quality of products” supplied to troops during the “special military operation,” referring to the war.
A Russian defense ministry source told newspaper Vedomosti the order “is based on the real needs of the troops” and not Russia’s State Armaments Program (SAP), which is a military procurement plan agreed in 2018 and lasting until 2027, which is worth around 19 trillion rubles ($300 billion). That was an update of a wide-ranging program between 2011 and 2020 to modernize Russia’s anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare and air defense.
The plan promised cutting-edge T-14 Armata tanks, whose production has stalled, aircraft and thousands of helicopters. But the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine with old equipment and is believed to be exhausting its stocks of high-precision missiles.
Vedomosti reported that the terms of the SAP had been “suspended” to focus on the needs of the war in Ukraine.
“The fact that Russia is doing that publicly and announcing it is significant,” said Steven Horrell, a non-resident senior fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“It highlights something other than the ‘everything is going our way’ narrative the Kremlin has been putting out,” he told Newsweek.
The previous state armaments program from 2011 to 2020, some of which was focused on increasing Russia’s swagger in the Black Sea region, “essentially empowered Putin to feel like he had the military power” to annex Crimea in 2014 and later “take this action in Ukraine.”
He said that program “delivered improved equipment, more technically advanced equipment, but all of a sudden, it wasn’t producing the results in 2022 that were expected of victory in Ukraine.”
In October, Ukraine claimed that Russia had expended two-thirds of its most modern missiles as Moscow faces dwindling supplies of Iskander short-range missiles and Kalibr land-attack missiles.
“When you start consuming all those things that were the product of the 2011 to 2020 plan, you have to go back and redo that decade’s worth of modernization—rather than take the next step to modernize,” Sorrell said.
Putin has reiterated claims about the prowess of his country’s hypersonic missile program that he first told Russian lawmakers about in March 2018, when he boasted about so-called “super weapons.”
But sanctions imposed over the course of the war have left Russia reportedly struggling to get the semiconductors and chips required for high-end armaments. U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said on October 14, the global sanctions led by the U.S., “have rendered the Russian military-industrial complex unable to produce and maintain critical equipment” for its invasion.
This has shifted the immediate priority away from high-end weaponry towards equipping troops on the front line.
“We’ve seen some reports from people within the Russian defense industry that said, ‘we need weapons on the battlefront,'” said Richard Connolly, director of the Eastern Advisory Group consultancy.
These included artillery pieces, shells, and “very unsexy stuff that just enables people to get the job done.”
“So they need a lot of really lower-tech equipment,” he told Newsweek. “The Russian forces are asking for these things and they’re not always reaching the front as quickly as they would like.”
“Defense enterprises are operating with a degree of inertia, insofar as they’re fulfilling their old orders, and actually what they need to do is be more nimble,” said Connolly, who believes the state armament program will take a back seat, but not be scrapped.
“They need to respond to the current existing needs, or the urgent needs of the army on the battlefield now,” he said.