The Risk Exposure of Russian Defense Companies behind the Atrocities in Syria

Although Russia’s mil­i­tary involve­ment in Syr­ia has been offi­cial­ly under­way since Sep­tem­ber 2015, its actions over the past sev­er­al weeks and months have brought into sharp relief its delib­er­ate tar­get­ing of civil­ians, most notably in Alep­po.  As in Ukraine, the Krem­lin had hoped that the “fog of war” would inter­fere with the attri­bu­tion of the bar­barism and alleged war crimes tak­ing place.  West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies, NGOs and media reports, how­ev­er, have now con­firmed many of the details.

Among these are specifics on the Russ­ian weapons sys­tems being used to car­ry out these attacks and, in turn, the iden­ti­ty of their Russ­ian man­u­fac­tur­ers.  This should be high­ly trou­bling for the for­eign busi­ness part­ners and cus­tomers of these com­pa­nies, who now find them­selves engaged with enti­ties that are facil­i­tat­ing the delib­er­ate and wan­ton bomb­ing of Syr­i­an chil­dren, aid work­ers and hos­pi­tals, which video images from the bat­tle­field have made so painful­ly and vivid­ly clear.  These Russ­ian com­pa­nies are vir­tu­al­ly all state-owned, mak­ing “paper thin” any pre­tense of dis­tance between being “mere­ly com­mer­cial ven­dors” and their being ful­ly account­able and com­plic­it in the dev­as­tat­ing ways their air­craft and muni­tions are being used.

Russia’s arms busi­ness – includ­ing its exports, which report­ed­ly hit some $15 bil­lion in 2015 – still plays promi­nent­ly in the Russ­ian econ­o­my.  Its for­eign pur­chasers include com­pa­nies from coun­tries, such as India, Jor­dan, Argenti­na, Chi­na, Iran and a spike in inter­est in recent years from coun­tries across North Africa, the Mid­dle East and South­east Asia, includ­ing the Philip­pines and Indone­sia.  The civil­ian endeav­ors of these Russ­ian arms com­pa­nies are even more exposed to rep­u­ta­tion­al blow­back, notably the mid-range Sukhoi Super­jet 100, which, after exten­sive sales and mar­ket­ing efforts over more than a decade has recent­ly notched break­through new clients in Mex­i­co and Ire­land and part­ner­ships with coun­tries like Italy and others.

The finan­cial and rep­u­ta­tion­al risk expo­sure asso­ci­at­ed with the prox­im­i­ty – and often the com­plic­i­ty – of the com­pa­nies that are a part of Russia’s mil­i­tary onslaught in Syr­ia now taints the part­ners and cus­tomers from around the world that they have so care­ful­ly cul­ti­vat­ed over the past num­ber of years.  The cor­po­rate man­agers and Boards of these com­pa­nies have – or should have – a near-term deci­sion to make con­cern­ing their per­cep­tion of prop­er cor­po­rate gov­er­nance, share­hold­er rela­tions and reputational/brand risk mit­i­ga­tion.  Choos­ing to “tough it out” in their rela­tions with these Russ­ian com­pa­nies, hop­ing that the con­flict abates, could be an expen­sive strate­gic choice in the mar­kets and in the court of pub­lic opinion.


Russia’s Military Role in Syria

The Russ­ian mil­i­tary has been broad­ly accused of both direct­ly and indi­rect­ly com­mit­ting war crimes through the delib­er­ate tar­get­ing of civil­ians, hos­pi­tals and aid deliv­er­ies through its own forces and those of the Assad regime.[1]  Indeed, the Russ­ian Air Force has been alleged via numer­ous eye-wit­ness accounts to have played a direct role in drop­ping both incen­di­ary muni­tions and clus­ter bombs on the civil­ian areas of rebel-con­trolled east­ern Alep­po and else­where in Syr­ia.[2]

Even those atroc­i­ties that are attrib­ut­able to Syr­i­an forces, rather than the Rus­sians, are com­mit­ted with mil­i­tary equip­ment that has been pro­cured from Russ­ian state-owned enter­pris­es.  At the begin­ning of the Syr­i­an upris­ing, gov­ern­ment forces pos­sessed rough­ly 500 air­craft, includ­ing 352 fixed-wing and 160 heli­copters.  Almost all were Russ­ian-man­u­fac­tured jets, trans­port planes and heli­copters.[3]

While the weapons deliv­er­ies that con­tin­ued into the present civ­il war have gen­er­al­ly been hid­den, Syr­i­an armed forces have been observed oper­at­ing such sophis­ti­cat­ed Russ­ian arma­ments as T‑90 tanks; KA-52 heli­copters; and Su-24 fight­er jets.[4]  The Su-32 bomber (the export ver­sion of the Su-34) has also played a promi­nent role.  With­in Syr­ia, how­ev­er, it is report­ed­ly being used exclu­sive­ly by Russ­ian forces.[5]

As of late Sep­tem­ber, IHS Jane stat­ed that deployed Russ­ian mil­i­tary air­craft includ­ed 4 Su-30SM mul­ti­role com­bat air­craft, 12 Su-25 ground attack air­craft, 12 Su-24M attack fight­ers (all man­u­fac­tured by Sukhoi, a sub­sidiary of Unit­ed Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion) and 6 pos­si­ble Ka-52 attack heli­copters (man­u­fac­tured by Kamov, a sub­sidiary of Russ­ian Heli­copters).[6]  Moscow has even brazen­ly sought to mar­ket its wares by show­ing off the com­bat use of its weapons in Syr­ia (both estab­lished sys­tems and new mod­els, like the MiG-29M).  The tar­get mar­ket has includ­ed oth­er Mid­dle East coun­tries.  Accord­ing to reports, this sales effort has been rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful to date.

The pri­ma­ry Russ­ian arms man­u­fac­tur­er impli­cat­ed in the bomb­ing of civil­ians by pub­lic reports, as described in some detail below, is Sukhoi (through the Su-24 and Su-25 bombers, the Su-30SM, the Su-34 and the Su-35S mul­ti­role fight­er).  Oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers report­ed­ly active in aer­i­al attack or bomb­ing activ­i­ties in Syr­ia include Tupolev (via the Tu-22M3 long-range bomber and Tu-160 strate­gic bomber) and Kamov (via the Ka-52 Alli­ga­tor com­bat heli­copter).  Of course, the ubiq­ui­tous Russ­ian arms exporter Rosoboronex­port also plays a cen­tral role.  Each of these com­pa­nies and their par­ent com­pa­nies – includ­ing Russ­ian Heli­copters and Unit­ed Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion – aspire to glob­al sup­pli­er sta­tus, includ­ing through com­mer­cial branch­es sell­ing civil­ian air­craft and oth­er products.


Global Business Ambitions

As a result of their glob­al ambi­tions and efforts over decades to cul­ti­vate rela­tion­ships in a vari­ety of mar­kets, these com­pa­nies have estab­lished ties to coun­tries and com­pa­nies from all over the world.  Below is just a sam­pling of these busi­ness and mar­ket­ing activ­i­ties, with the glob­al busi­ness foot­print for each of these com­pa­nies visu­al­ized and mapped by Intel­Trak.



Out­side of Sukhoi’s efforts to mar­ket its fixed-wing fight­er jets, the company’s civil­ian-focused sub­sidiary, Sukhoi Civ­il Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion (ini­tial­ly a joint ven­ture with Ale­nia Aer­ma­c­chi, which has now been inte­grat­ed into Italy’s Leonar­do-Fin­mec­ca­ni­ca, a multi­na­tion­al aero­space, defense and secu­ri­ty con­glom­er­ate), has care­ful­ly rolled out its new Super­jet 100 (SSJ100) over the past sev­er­al years to crit­i­cal acclaim.  The com­pa­ny has sought to gain a foothold in the glob­al mar­ket for air­craft beyond sim­ply Russ­ian buy­ers.  Finan­cial­ly, the firm is count­ing on for­eign sales to prop up the mas­sive invest­ment made in this new flag­ship, mid-range, civil­ian air­craft from the resur­gent Russ­ian aero­space indus­try.  These and oth­er Sukhoi sales are list­ed below.

Sukhoi and Its Subsidiaries Global Footprint

Sukhoi and Its Sub­sidiaries Glob­al Footprint

  • In Novem­ber 2012, Mexico’s Inter­jet increased its order of SSJ100s to 20, with an option for 10 more from Super­Jet Inter­na­tion­al (the company’s sales and mar­ket­ing sub­sidiary). As of 2016, the jets are on sched­ule for delivery.
  • India has inte­grat­ed Sukhoi air­craft into its fleet. In Decem­ber 2010, for exam­ple, Rosoboronex­port, India’s Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics (HAL), and Sukhoi signed a $295 mil­lion pre­lim­i­nary design devel­op­ment con­tract for the Fifth Gen­er­a­tion Fight­er Air­craft (FGFA).  In Decem­ber 2011, the Indi­an Air Force (IAF) increased its order of Su-30M­KI planes by 42, bring­ing their total order to date to 272 air­craft val­ued at some $12 billion.
  • In March 2016, Moscow announced that it was ready to expand India’s licensed pro­duc­tion of the Su-30M­KI fight­er air­craft (as well as for the T‑90S tanks).
  • In Octo­ber 2015, Ireland’s City­Jet ordered 15 Super­jet 100 air­craft, as part of a lease agree­ment. In March of this year, the Russ­ian Export Cen­ter (a state insti­tu­tion under VneshE­conom­Bank, or VEB) agreed to sup­port the sale.  Even Air France has report­ed­ly had dis­cus­sions with City­Jet about leas­ing these same aircraft.
  • In April 2016, Jor­dan opened talks with Russ­ian offi­cials regard­ing the acqui­si­tion of the Su-32 fight­er-bomber aircraft.



  • In Sep­tem­ber 2013, Russ­ian Heli­copters signed an agree­ment to deliv­er 5 Kamov-man­u­fac­tured Ka-62 and 5 Mi-171A heli­copters to Colom­bia at a cost of $10 mil­lion for each Ka-62 and $17 mil­lion for each Mi-171A, mak­ing the total agree­ment worth approx­i­mate­ly $135 million. 

    IntelTrak: Kamov's Global Footprint

    Intel­Trak: Kamov’s Glob­al Footprint

  • In Sep­tem­ber 2016, Russ­ian Defense Min­is­ter Sergei Shoigu reached an agree­ment with his Egypt­ian coun­ter­part to train Egypt­ian pilots to use Ka-52K heli­copters. This fol­lowed an announce­ment a year pri­or that Egypt would like­ly pur­chase at least 50 Ka-52 Alli­ga­tor attack helicopters.
  • The Por­tuguese gov­ern­ment pur­chased six Ka-32 mul­ti­role heli­copters in 2006, and in July 2016 signed an agree­ment with Russ­ian Heli­copters to eval­u­ate the state of its Ka-32 fleet and pro­vide maintenance.



Rosoboronex­port, the Russ­ian export firm involved in the vast major­i­ty of for­eign arms sale, of course, has a much broad­er foot­print, extend­ing to Sau­di Ara­bia, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Sri Lan­ka, Spain, Moroc­co, Azer­bai­jan and elsewhere.

IntelTrak: Rosoboronexport's Global Footprint

Intel­Trak: Rosoboronex­port’s Glob­al Footprint

The glob­al foot­print of these com­pa­nies goes well beyond what is described above and like­wise includes spare parts and ser­vic­ing rela­tion­ships with coun­tries not rep­re­sent­ed on these maps.  One rea­son is that the ini­tial sup­ply of arms to a num­ber of coun­tries dates back many years includ­ing many in Cen­tral, East­ern and South­east­ern Europe still employ­ing Sovi­et-era weapons.

The part­ner com­pa­nies and nation­al gov­ern­ments impli­cat­ed in these deals are now sad­dled with the bur­den of con­tribut­ing to state-owned enti­ties that are com­plic­it in the hor­rors against civil­ians being record­ed in Syr­ia.  Below is a more detailed account­ing of the role of these and oth­er Russ­ian arms man­u­fac­tur­ers in equip­ping this Russ­ian mil­i­tary campaign.


Sukhoi in Syria

In autumn 2015 (around the start of its pub­licly announced inter­ven­tion), Moscow con­firmed that its Su-24 and Su-25 bombers were car­ry­ing out airstrikes in Syr­ia.  Short­ly after, Moscow con­firmed that the “more mod­ern” Su-34[7] and Su-30SM jets were also being uti­lized.[8]  All are pro­duced by Sukhoi, and there is evi­dence of these craft, under the oper­a­tion of Russ­ian forces, being used to attack civil­ians and civil­ian tar­gets, includ­ing hospitals.

A notable exam­ple is the mid-Sep­tem­ber strike against a joint UN-Syr­i­an human­i­tar­i­an Arab Red Cres­cent Con­voy that has prompt­ed a call for war crime pro­ceed­ings, includ­ing by the U.S.  While the role of Russ­ian Su-24 bombers in the strike can­not be defin­i­tive­ly proven, the two Su-24s report­ed­ly spot­ted pri­or to the attack were trav­el­ing as a pair (where­as the Syr­i­an Air Force only con­ducts soli­tary sor­ties).[9]

Fol­low­ing Moscow’s so-called draw­down,[10] videos emerged in Sep­tem­ber of the Russ­ian Su-25 Frog­foot[11] sup­port­ing the Syr­i­an army in Latakia – indi­cat­ing its rede­ploy­ment to the bat­tle­front.[12]  Around ear­ly Octo­ber, Izves­tia news­pa­per report­ed that a group of Su-24 and Su-34 war­planes had arrived at Syria’s Hmeymim Air­base, where Su-25 planes have also been recent­ly deployed.[13]  A Sput­nik arti­cle from ear­li­er this year also con­firmed the deploy­ment of four Sukhoi Su-35S mul­ti­role fight­er air­craft to Hmeymim and not­ed the use of the Su-34 strike fight­er in Syr­ia – uti­lized through­out almost the entire cam­paign.[14]

Pre­ci­sion-guid­ed muni­tions can equip a vari­ety of Sukhoi air­craft – includ­ing all those being used by the Russ­ian mil­i­tary in Syr­ia (i.e., the Su-24, Su-25, Su-30 and Su-34) [15], but unguid­ed bombs have been used exten­sive­ly, includ­ing by the Su-25 Frog­foots.  Exam­ples of such muni­tions are the OFAB-250 and the S‑13 rock­et.[16]


Incen­di­ary and Clus­ter Munitions

The use of clus­ter muni­tions (along with incen­di­ary muni­tions[17]) in Syr­ia has increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly since the Russ­ian inter­ven­tion.[18]   Moscow has been uti­liz­ing the BETAB-500 “bunker buster” bomb through­out its mil­i­tary cam­paign, along with incen­di­ary bombs and clus­ter muni­tions, to hit civil­ian neigh­bor­hoods in rebel-held east­ern Alep­po.  The BETAB-500 has been used against ISIS as well, but was released in an urban envi­ron­ment for the first time in Alep­po.[19]

In mid-August, Human Rights Watch also accused Syr­i­an and Rus­sia forces of uti­liz­ing incen­di­ary weapons through­out civil­ian areas in the rebel-held north and north­west Syr­ia, includ­ing Idlib.[20]  Russ­ian state media out­lets broad­cast footage in mid-June show­ing the RBK-500 incen­di­ary bombs mount­ed to their Su-34, which, again, are exclu­sive­ly Russ­ian oper­at­ed, at the Hmeymim Air­base south­east of Latakia (Syr­ia).

In a June 2016 inci­dent, the Russ­ian mil­i­tary tar­get­ed a coali­tion-backed rebel group’s base, drop­ping clus­ter muni­tions.  In one July 11, 2016 attack, a Russ­ian-oper­at­ed Su-24 and two Russ­ian oper­at­ed Su-34s were also alleged­ly respon­si­ble for drop­ping these same muni­tions.[21]  Moscow emphat­i­cal­ly denies using such weapons.  The U.S. Depart­ment of Defense, how­ev­er, has also claimed to have proof of Russ­ian oper­at­ed air­craft drop­ping clus­ter muni­tions in al-Tanf.

Types of clus­ter muni­tions used include vari­a­tions of the RBK-500 as well as 9M27K (9N210/9N235) and M42/M46/M77-type DPICM.  The RBK-500 clus­ter bomb – one of the most com­mon clus­ter bombs glob­al­ly – is com­pat­i­ble with var­i­ous Mikoy­an pro­duced (i.e., MiG-type) and Sukhoi pro­duced (i.e., Su-type) air­craft – as well as the Yak-28, Tu-22M and Tu-95.


Tupolev in Syria

IntelTrak: Tupolev Global Footprint

Intel­Trak: Tupolev Glob­al Footprint

Tupolev is a Russ­ian aero­space and defense com­pa­ny.  The Tu-22M3 long-range bombers have been launched into Syr­ia from west­ern Iran’s Hamadan air­base, con­duct­ing airstrikes in Alep­po, Idlib and Deir el-Zor provinces, accord­ing to the Russ­ian defense min­istry.  A Sput­nik arti­cle from 2016 also con­firmed the use of Tupolev Tu-160 strate­gic bombers, which car­ry KAB-500 guid­ed bombs, Kh24L laser guid­ed mis­siles and Kh-101 air launched cruise mis­siles.[22]  Tupolev, along with Sukhoi, are owned by the Unit­ed Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion.[23]  Tupolev’s glob­al sales activ­i­ty is visu­al­ized in the image above.


Kamov in Syria

Accord­ing to numer­ous instances of on-the-ground video footage[24] and tes­ti­mo­ny from rebels, the Ka-52 Alli­ga­tor com­bat heli­copter has been uti­lized by Russ­ian forces through­out Syr­ia.  These heli­copters are man­u­fac­tured by Kamov.


Rosoboronexport in Syria

Russia’s arms exporter has been involved in numer­ous weapons ship­ments to the Assad regime and report­ed­ly main­tains a small office in Syr­ia (with rough­ly 20 staff).  As of 2012, Moscow had showed no intent to slow, much less ter­mi­nate, weapons sales to the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, and it is assumed that Rosoboronex­port has been involved in the large major­i­ty of these trans­ac­tions.  Admit­ted­ly, some of the small weapons sales are more dif­fi­cult to track and could be com­ing from oth­er coun­tries with caches of Sovi­et-era weapons.  The major­i­ty of pur­chas­es of Russ­ian-made defense equip­ment, how­ev­er, involve Rosoboronexport.


[1] Suleiman al-Kha­li­di and David Brunnstrom. “Rebels Fend off Alep­po Assault as Nations Seek to Rebuild Peace Process.” Reuters. Octo­ber 4, 2016.

[2] The Syr­i­an Obser­va­to­ry for Human Rights has not­ed that Russ­ian direct involve­ment in Syr­ia (i.e., Russ­ian airstrikes) has killed 3,804 civil­ians, includ­ing 906 chil­dren, along with over 5,000 rebels and oth­er militants.

[3] Ben Wat­son. “Weapons of the Syr­i­an War: Air­pow­er (Syr­i­an).” Defense One. July 19, 2016.

[4] Bar­bara Starr and Ryan Browne. “Aer­i­al Close Encounter between US, Syr­i­an Jets.” CNN Pol­i­tics. August 20, 2016.

[5] “Russ­ian Arms in Demand After Syr­ia Cam­paign.” Rus­sia Today. March 28, 2016.

[6] Demetri Sev­astop­u­lo. “US Changes Tone on Russ­ian Weapons in Syr­ia.” Finan­cial Times. Sep­tem­ber 22, 2015.

[7] There is evi­dence of these being launched from west­ern Iran’s Hamadan air­base.  They are known to have car­ried out airstrikes in Alep­po, Idlib and Deir el-Zor provinces, as per Russ­ian Defense Min­istry information.

[8] Damien Sharkov. “Putin’s Syr­ia Cam­paign Could Boost Russ­ian Arms Sale By $7 Bil­lion.” Newsweek. March 29, 2016.; Aron Lund. “Putin’s Plan: What Will Rus­sia Bomb in Syr­ia?”  Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­ter. Sep­tem­ber 23, 2015.

[9] Video footage of the strikes, along with a pro-Assad Twit­ter account, indi­cate that the planes were Russ­ian, although the Syr­i­an Civ­il Defense (i.e., the White Hel­mets) not­ed that it was a Syr­i­an regime strike, issu­ing a state­ment indi­cat­ing that both Russ­ian and Syr­i­an pilot­ed air­craft were involved.  An AFP pho­to­graph shows the tail of what is thought to be an OFAB-250‑2700 frag­men­ta­tion bomb uti­lized fre­quent­ly by the Russ­ian Air Force in Syr­ia.  See “Airstrikes on UN Aid Con­voy in Alep­po: Claims and Real­i­ty.” Con­flict Intel­li­gence Team. Sep­tem­ber 21, 2016.

[10] Pre­vi­ous­ly, the Su-34 air­craft were with­drawn from Hmeymim air­base, fol­lowed by the Su-24 and Su-25 attack jets.

[11] Accord­ing to Russia’s South­ern Mil­i­tary Dis­trict com­man­der, the air­craft has flown over 1,600 sor­ties and dropped rough­ly 6,000 bombs since the begin­ning of Russia’s mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia.  See “Syria/Russia: Incen­di­ary Weapons Burn in Alep­po, Idlib.” Human Rights Watch. August 16, 2016.

[12] Paul Mcleary. “Here’s the Bomb Rus­sia is Using to Flat­ten Alep­po.” For­eign Pol­i­cy. Sep­tem­ber 26, 2016.

[13] Hmeymim is Russia’s home base in Krasnodar region.  See “Rus­sia Sends More War­planes to Syr­ia, World Anger Grows.” Dai­ly Star Lebanon. Octo­ber 1, 2016.

[14] “Five Russ­ian Weapons Which Made Their Dead­ly Debut in Syr­ia.” Sput­nik. Feb­ru­ary 28, 2016.

[15] “Syria/Russia: Incen­di­ary Weapons Burn in Alep­po, Idlib.” Human Rights Watch. August 16, 2016.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Human Rights Watch has cit­ed “com­pelling evi­dence that Russ­ian gov­ern­ment air­craft are being used to deliv­er incen­di­ary weapons or are at least par­tic­i­pat­ing with Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment air­craft in [such] attacks.”  See “Syria/Russia: Incen­di­ary Weapons Burn in Alep­po, Idlib.” Human Rights Watch. August 16, 2016.

[18] “Russia/Syria: Wide­spread New Clus­ter Muni­tion Use.” Human Rights Watch. July 28, 2016.

[19] Paul Mcleary. “Here’s the Bomb Rus­sia is Using to Flat­ten Alep­po.” For­eign Pol­i­cy. Sep­tem­ber 26, 2016.

[20] “Syria’s Civ­il War: Russ­ian Jets Bomb Rebels From Iran.” Al Jazeera. August 17, 2016; “Syria/Russia: Incen­di­ary Weapons Burn in Alep­po, Idlib.” Human Rights Watch. August 16, 2016.

[21] Sev­er­al online Russ­ian news sources report­ed that Russ­ian air­craft car­ried out the attacks (as did the Russ­ian Defense Min­istry on their website).

[22] “Five Russ­ian Weapons Which Made Their Dead­ly Debut in Syr­ia.” Sput­nik. Feb­ru­ary 28, 2016.

[23] Some of the company’s oth­er sub­sidiaries include: Mikoy­an; Irkut Cor­po­ra­tion; Ilyushin; Beriev; and Yakovlev – among oth­ers.   See