Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Sofia — Eastern European arms exporters are capitalising on years of turmoil in the Middle East.

Makers of bullets, assault rifles and guided missiles in countries including Bulgaria and the Czech Republic experienced a surge in demand as conflicts swept across the region in the wake of the Arab Spring. As well as selling weapons to nations actively involved in fighting, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia, they’ve also struck deals with the US and other third parties.

"The uptick in arms sales to the Middle East does appear to have coincided with a general ramp-up in armed conflict in the region," Lucas Dos Santos, head of Europe country risk at BMI Research, said by e-mail. "While the worst may be behind us, low-level conflict will simmer on for some time. As such, demand should remain fairly well supported."

Former communist Europe remains embedded in military supply chains that date back to the Soviet Union, whose clients often included governments in the Middle East. That’s helped them outstrip global growth in weapons and military equipment sales, which reached 8.4% between 2012 and 2016, the biggest five-year jump since 1990, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

While arms exports make up a small chunk of GDP — just 2% in Bulgaria, and that’s the highest proportion in the region — they’ve helped support growth amid the malaise of recent years in more traditional markets in the eurozone.

It is a different story in nearby Russia, which once called the shots in the Eastern Bloc and is now the world’s second-biggest weapons exporter after the US

As well as playing a decisive role in the war in Syria, President Vladimir Putin’s government notched up sales of $15bn in 2016, and finalised a deal earlier in September to supply Turkey with air-defence missiles. That contract alone may be worth $2.5bn. Moscow’s former satellites are some way behind.


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