Vladimir Putin on Monday offered to send advanced weapons to bolster his allies around the world after he pledged to boost relations with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.
The Russian president boasted about the Kremlin’s arsenal at his country’s annual arms expo which traditionally attracts delegations from around the world, but Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine this year turned the conference into a much lower-key event.
His claims about sending high-tech weapons abroad came despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leading to major shortages and production issues for high precision arms.
He said Russia could offer new models and systems - “we are talking about high-precision weapons and robotics, about combat systems based on new physical principles.
“Many of them are years, or maybe decades ahead of their foreign counterparts, and in terms of tactical and technical characteristics they are significantly superior to them.”
Earlier on Monday, Mr Putin and Mr Kim pledged to boost ties, fueling speculation that Pyongyang might offer Russia weapons that it has been stockpiling for decades.
Mr Putin in his speech on Monday sought to dispel suggestions about Russia’s increasing international isolation, lauding Russia’s allies in Latin America, Asia and Africa and offering to share with them Russia’s cutting-edge weapons and technology.
“[We] are ready to offer our allies the most modern types of weapons, from small arms to armoured vehicles and artillery to combat aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said.
“Almost all of them have been used more than once in real combat operations.”
Russia facing setbacks in Ukraine war
The Russian leader’s remarks seem to be at odds with his army’s performance in Ukraine where it has faced a number of setbacks in recent weeks.
By mid-July, Russia’s armed forces reportedly used up more than half of their high-precision weaponry, according to Ukrainian intelligence.
Recent missile strikes, including the one that hit a shopping centre, appear to back up the suggestion.
As far as heavy weaponry goes, Russia reportedly lost almost 800 tanks by the end of June, pushing it to take retired T-62 tanks, which were first introduced in the 1960s, from its inventory and send them to the battlefield.
Russia’s ability to manufacture new high-tech weapons to replace those destroyed in Ukraine has been compromised by crippling international sanctions.
More than 450 foreign-made components have been found in the Russian weapons seized in Ukraine since the start of the war, Royal United Services Institute said in a report last week, underlining Moscow’s dependence on critical technology in the US, Europe and Asia.
Western sanctions imposed against Russia also raised questions about its ability to source components and provide maintenance for the weapons it sells, said Ben Hodges, a former commander of US army forces in Europe.
“I’d be very concerned as a prospective buyer about the quality of the equipment and the ability of the Russian Federation industry to sustain it,” he said.
Ukraine has made effective use of US-supplied weapons, especially the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), and Russia has taken a series of major blows. These include explosions at an air base in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula last week that destroyed at least eight aircraft on the ground, according to satellite images.
Separately, Mr Putin and Mr Kim exchanged letters, pledging closer ties.
Mr Putin in a letter to Mr Kim for Korea’s liberation day, which commemorates the end of 35 years of imperial Japanese rule on the peninsula, said closer relations between Russia and North Korea would serve both countries’ interests and help to strengthen “security and stability” in the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia as a whole.
Mr Kim also sent a letter to Mr Putin, predicting ties between their countries would deepen based on an agreement signed in 2019 when the two authoritarian leaders met in Russia.
The “strategic and tactical cooperation, support and solidarity” between North Korea and Russia has grown through the countries’ joint efforts against threats and provocations from hostile military forces, Mr Kim said in the letter, according to KCNA news agency.
Pyongyang has been stockpiling weaponry for decades, leading some analysts to believe it could become a source of armament for Russia as its invasion of Ukraine is grinding on.
Russian state media reported earlier this month that North Korea, which last month became the first country to recognise two pro-Kremlin separatist states in the Donbas, offered Moscow 100,000 “volunteer” troops to fight Ukraine. However, there appears to be no progress on that offer.