Free Syrian Army 2
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a rifle as other fighter runs for cover during a fire fight. Reuters

Russia announced Monday that its arms industry had a record $15.16 billion in weapons sales in 2012, topping the original estimate of $13.5 billion, the AFP reported.

The head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Alexander Fomin, told reporters, “Our plans have been fulfilled by 111.8 percent.”

Sales of Russian arms therefore continued a steady rise from $10.4 billion in 2010 to $13.2 billion in 2011. The countries that are buying weapons are the ones whose budgets are growing; in other words, not European countries. Richard Weitz, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., said the biggest purchasers of Russian arms and armaments were most likely Southeast Asian countries.

“Vietnam, Indonesia, India and China” are the biggest buyers, Weitz said. “China is an interesting case, because [arms sales from Russia] almost died a few years ago. [China] used to buy $2 billion a year throughout the 1990s and early '00s, and it sort of died because China started developing [weapons production capacity] on [its] own.”

RIA Novosti also reported that Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Venezuela were some of the largest purchasers of Russian equipment.

China’s weapons buildup was massive enough, however, that despite the country's domestic arms manufacturing ability, the Russians were able to continue selling the Chinese engines and steel parts, Weitz said.

Part of Russia’s profit, Weitz agreed, comes from a quiet arms race in Asia. “The key word is subtle,” Weitz stressed. “All Asian countries are upgrading their weapons systems, and putting a lot of money into their defense. I think the Vietnamese are concerned about China. And Indonesia is upgrading in response to everyone else upgrading.”

India is also a long-time customer of Russian military supplies, Weitz said.

On the other side of the globe, Russia expanded its operations in Africa and the Middle East. Fomin told the AFP that new customers included the Arab Gulf state Oman, and the African nations Ghana and Tanzania. Weitz speculated that Sudan might also be on that list, which the Russians may not wish to publicize.

Is Syria getting Russian military support? “Yes,” said Weitz, with certainty. “They’re probably giving them helicopters. They’re not giving them new stuff, but probably just fixing what they have.”

Before the uprising began in March 2011, Syria reached out to Russia and purchased submarines, fighter jets and other aircraft, missile systems, and air defense systems. The entire contract was worth about $4 billion, according to Global Defence Net. Since the uprising, Russia has continued to sell arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime,which has angered much of the world. The Russian government defended the sales, citing contractual obligations.

Russia’s defense industry is the second largest in the world, after the United States. U.S. munitions exports topped $60 billion in 2011 and 2012.