Idex 2015: Ukrainian and Russian big guns out in force to sell home-grown hardware

The pavilions of Russia and Ukraine are a safe distance apart at Adnec in Abu Dhabi.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, third left, and the head of Ukrainian General Staff Viktor Muzhenko, right of Poroshenko, visit the International Defence Exhibition and Conference. Mikhail Palinchak / AP Photo
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The sprawling military machines of Russia and Ukraine once counted on each other for the parts needed to assemble their armaments. Now everything has changed and the defence industries of the belligerents have become collateral damage in the conflict.

Both are adjusting by making more home-grown versions of the parts they once imported or sourcing from elsewhere among the former Soviet republics.

At the Idex military expo in Abu Dhabi, where the world’s biggest arms makers gather once every two years to display their wares, the pavilions of Russia and Ukraine are a safe distance apart.

A huge armoured car guards the Ukraine stand, while a tank is parked in front of the Russian pavilion as a former special forces soldier bedecked in combat fatigues displays the latest laser-sighted Kalashnikovs.

The big military exporting corporations of both countries have some of their most powerful weapons on display, along with some of the most powerful military figures in charge of making them.

Sergei Chemezov, a high-profile ally of the president Vladimir Putin and chief executive of the state-owned military corporation Rostec, heads up the Russian presence.

Roman Romanov, a former political campaigner for the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, leads Ukraine’s military machine as the chief executive of Ukroboronprom.

Both men are overseeing the transformation of their arms industries as Russia seeks to offset the impact of sanctions, while Ukrainian manufacturers switch focus to provide the arms needed to defend the country’s borders, also attracting foreign investment into their industry.

“We had to change overnight,” recalls Nadiia Stechyshyna, an aide to Mr Romanov, describing how some of the country’s factories in the east of Ukraine were destroyed following the outbreak of violence last year. At the same time, it lost control of its marine assets in the Crimean Pensinsula.

The loss of those assets was a major blow for the company – if one that Mr Chemezov downplayed at a press conference this week.

“Those companies were half-dead,” he said in response to questions from The National. “They were mainly vessel-building and maintenance companies.”

Nonetheless, their loss is an added challenge for Ukraine’s depleted military machine as it balances the commercial demands of the company with the defence demands of the country.

“Our partners have been very understanding,” says Ukroboronprom’s Ms Stechyshyna. “Some of the contracts might have been delayed, but we completed our obligations. They understand there is a threat to our national security. Surely we have to intervene and work all the days and nights to get the soldiers what they need to fight and preserve their rights.”

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