Kommersant on Russian Arms Imports

Kommersant is usually a quite good newspaper, but published an article on Russian military purchases abroad that makes a serious historical mistake (partial English version here). Ivan Safronov is the reporter, but may not be responsible for the error. The article as a whole is an excellent survey of the issues surrounding the import of munitions, but its teaser paragraph claims “For the first time in the history of the Russian military, it had begun the purchase of weapons abroad.”

This neglects, of course, the imperial Russian army’s extensive purchases of weapons, particularly during World War I. It neglects the extensive Soviet purchase of systems, models and designs from abroad during the interwar period. The Soviet tank industry, for example, was essentially founded on designs from Vickers, Carden-Loyd, and Christie: the T-26, the T-27, and the BT series. And, of course, the Soviet Union used Western weaponry extensively during World War II as part of Lend-Lease.

In an accompanying survey of expert opinion, the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen quite rightly points to World War I and Lend-Lease, though not the interwar period closest to my heart. Sergei Maev, though, claimed that “During the First World War, tsarist Russia paid in gold for ten million rifles, but the rifles never reached our borders until the end of the Civil War.” In actual fact, looking just at the United States (I don’t have figures for other suppliers at hand), Russia ordered 3.6 million rifles, and had 400,000 delivered by the February Revolution. While I would never claim that as a sterling performance by American industry, it’s a long way from nothing. Maev, who’s head of DOSAAF, Russia’s chief voluntary organization supporting the military, and a former director of Rosoboronzakaz, really ought to know better.

2 Responses to “Kommersant on Russian Arms Imports”

  1. TF Smith says:

    The Soviets (as opposed to the Russians, I suppose) also purchased warships built in Italian yards (Tashkent, IIRC) in the interwar period, and actually approached the US for the same thing, long before Lend Lease…

    One of my professors wrote a book about it.

    Great blog, by the way.

  2. Laura Meyerovich says:

    The article refers to military equipment as well as weaponry, and the claim that it was purchased abroad “for the first time” is grossly exaggerated.

    Russian army was buying muskets abroad in 18th century. After that, it was mostly domestic manufacturing.

    There are references in military history books to purchasing weapons (but not artillery) from Germany, Belgium, and US after the Crimean war 1858 and later (???????: ??????? ?. ?. ??????? ????????. — ?. ????????? ??? ???? 1940)

    http://www.grwar.ru/library/Manikovsky/MS_006.html has a section on weaponry purchases abroad during the WWI.

    I am currently translating memoirs of A.N. Krylov, who in 1908-1910 was a chief inspector of shipbuilding in the Imperial Naval Ministry, and before and after that occupied other important posts in the navy. He writes about building naval ships, as well as purchasing torpedoes and other equipment, abroad.

    Even the Russian-provided artillery of the Russian battleship Tsesarevich (built in Toulon, launched 1901) had foreign-made components, namely turrets and range finders. Some Russian-built naval ships had important components (machinery, armor plates, etc) purchased abroad.

    The submarine Protector was secretly purchased in 1904 in USA, renamed Osetr, and used as a basis for two classes of Russian pre-WWI submarines.

    Stephen McLaughlin’s “Russian and Soviet Battleships” is a good source for information about Russian battleships, it lists numerous examples of the Navy ordering ships or purchasing their components abroad.

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