Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine hits the arms market with full force. In Europe, imports of heavy weapons such as tanks, fighter jets and submarines have risen by 47 percent over the past two five-year periods, and by European NATO countries by as much as 65 percent. This emerges from a new report published by the Stockholm peace research institute Sipri on Monday. The Ukraine suddenly developed into one of the largest arms importers in the world.

In contrast, the global volume of arms deliveries between countries fell by 5.1 percent. The USA remain the absolute industry leader, Germany one of the five largest suppliers.

Arms transfers have declined around the world

“Even though arms transfers have declined worldwide, those to Europe have increased sharply due to tensions between Russia and most other European countries,” said Sipri researcher Pieter Wezeman. “After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European countries want to import more weapons – and faster.” According to the report, more than half (56 percent) of the weapons imported by these states came from the USA, 5.1 percent from Germany.

Traditionally, Sipri’s data is about long-term trends. However, if you only look at the development from 2021 to 2022, European armaments imports have almost doubled year-on-year. According to Wezeman, the main reason for this is Ukraine’s imports after the Russian invasion in February 2022: after the country had imported hardly any armaments from abroad since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it became the third-largest importer in 2022 due to military aid from the USA and Europe worldwide behind Qatar and India.

Germany third largest arms supplier to Ukraine

In the long-term period 2018 to 2022, Ukraine ranks 14th among the importing countries with a share of 2.0 percent of global arms imports. Germany is your third largest arms supplier behind the USA and Poland.

“Before 2022, there were hardly any arms deliveries to Ukraine. They were at a very low level – especially considering their size and the fact that they have been at war since 2014,” Wezeman told the German Press Agency. This is the one part that has changed significantly. “The other part is that over the past decade, especially since 2014, European states have reacted significantly to what they see as a very large increase in the threat from Russia.” Increasing demand from most European countries is likely to have a much greater impact on import figures in the coming years.

USA break away from Russia

The US and Russia have been the world’s dominant arms suppliers for decades. But the gap between them is growing: While the USA is still the absolute number one among arms exporters with a share that has risen to 40 percent, Russia’s has fallen significantly to 16 percent. With France in third place posting strong gains to 11 percent and with far more outstanding large orders than Russia, Sipri doesn’t think it’s out of the question that it could overtake Russia in the future.

The volume of Russian arms exports fell by 31 percent comparing the periods 2013-2017 and 2018-2022, with a particularly sharp drop in 2020-2022. The researchers believe that this trend will continue because of the Ukraine war: Russia’s armed forces needed the weapons themselves, on the one hand, and on the other hand, demand from other countries is likely to remain low due to the sanctions against Russia and the increasing pressure from the West on these states.

4.2 percent of all arms exports from Germany

The five largest arms exporters continue to be completed by China and Germany. According to the report, the German export volume fell by 35 percent in a five-year comparison, which means that the Federal Republic now has a 4.2 percent share of global arms exports – after 6.1 percent in the previous period. Countries in the Middle East were the largest buyers of German armaments.

“With Germany, we’ve seen such fluctuations before. This is often related to a relatively small number of major orders for naval equipment, particularly submarines and frigates,” Wezeman said. There have been delays in several major projects, such as submarine deliveries to Turkey, Israel and Singapore. “Based on this, it would not be surprising if German arms exports rose again.”

Greenpeace speaks of a scandal

The peace organization Greenpeace is critical of Germany’s role in the arms market. “Germany is still one of the five largest arms suppliers in the world, and that remains a scandal,” said disarmament expert Alexander Lurz. The federal government must work diplomatically for moderation. “Further deliveries of battle tanks, warships and combat aircraft continue to fuel global trouble spots,” Lurz complained.

The Sipri data refers to the volume of arms deliveries, not their financial value. Since the volume can vary greatly from year to year depending on the order situation, the independent institute actually focuses on five-year periods instead of individual years. This time they made an exception for the Ukraine due to the war.