Russian factories working overtime to make hi-tech weapons, claims Putin ally
Russia is expanding its defence production and introducing the “latest technologies” in its weapons factories, according to a key ally of Vladimir Putin.
It came amid further signs that Moscow is cosying up to Beijing, with Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, set to visit China in the coming days following reports that a drone deal may be under way.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, mocked Western intelligence reports that Moscow was running short of weapons and ammunition, and having to fall back on basic Cold War kit.
Instead, he said that factories in Russia had boosted their output tenfold and were improving weapons with hi-tech Western kit captured on the battlefield.
“We are not just expanding production, but also introducing the latest technologies, perfecting them literally ‘on the march’,” he said in an article published in the monthly National Defence magazine.
Mr Medvedev, now deputy head of the Russian Security Council, boasted that Russian engineers and scientists were learning from Western weapons captured in Ukraine.
He said: “We have also studied enemy weapons quite well, which were taken as trophies and dismantled to the last screw at our military construction bureaux. We turned the enemy’s experience to our own advantage.”
Despite Western sanctions that are starving Russia of vital microchips, the Kremlin has shifted its economy onto a war footing. Employees at weapons factories work triple shifts and are protected from being mobilised.
There have been reports of shopping centres being turned into munitions factories.
The comments came as the British Ministry of Defence said that Russia had nearly run out of Iranian drones after 24 were shot down by Ukraine at the start of February.
“Russia has run down its current stock. Russia will likely seek a resupply,” it said.
But rather than manufacturing its own, there have been reports that the Kremlin is looking to China for fresh stocks.
Mr Lukashenko announced that he is set to visit China this week. Officially, his three-day trip is aimed at “improving bilateral” relations with China.
However, analysts have said that Belarus is little more than a Russian vassal state and Mr Lukashenko often acts as an emissary for Putin on his foreign visits and relaying messages from the Kremlin – raising the possibility that he will seek to seal a deal on drones or other weapons.
US officials have warned China of “consequences” if it supports the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
While Beijing has not officially backed Putin, it has refused to criticise him either.
On Saturday, China blocked a G20 joint communique that would have included a condemnation of the invasion – a decision that Christian Lindner, the German finance minister, described as “regrettable”.
This week, Beijing has tried to put itself increasingly at the centre of the efforts to end the conflict, even offering up a 12-point “peace plan” that was widely derided by Ukraine’s allies.
But Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, welcomed the initiative and said he would like to meet Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader.
Macron to visit China in April
Emmanuel Macron also announced that he would visit China in early April in order to urge Beijing to help “put pressure” on Russia to end the war.
“The fact that China is engaging in peace efforts is a good thing,” the French president said, while urging Beijing “not to supply any arms to Russia”.
Separately, the European Union vowed to increase pressure on Moscow “until Ukraine is liberated” as it adopted a 10th package of sanctions on Russia.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, tweeted:
I welcome the formal adoption of our 10th sanctions package against Russia.
We now have the most far-reaching sanctions ever - depleting Russia's war arsenal and biting deep into its economy.
We are also turning up the pressure on those trying to circumvent our sanctions. https://t.co/hh74CxvbCx
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) February 25, 2023
The latest measures mainly target Moscow’s access to technology that can be used for civilian and military purposes, as well as advanced technologies.
The package adds electronic components used in Russian weapons systems retrieved on the battlefield, including drones, missiles, helicopters, as well as specific rare earth materials, electronic integrated circuits and thermal cameras to the list of banned exports.
It also imposes tighter export restrictions on another 96 entities for supporting Russia’s military and industrial complex including, for the first time, seven Iranian entities manufacturing military drones used by Moscow.
The Kremlin bought hundreds of Iranian kamikaze drones last summer and set them into action against Ukrainian cities. When they were first deployed last August, Western analysts said that they were being used to protect Russia’s low stocks of missiles.
Russia has signed a deal with Iran to build a drone factory near Kazan, central Russia, but this is supposedly some months away from starting production.
The intensity of the fighting in Ukraine has meant that both sides have used up huge arsenals.
Nato officials have also warned that Ukraine’s army was firing ammunition faster than it could be resupplied.