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