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Europe Prepares to Punish the Russian Military

Check out this timeline.

Russian T-90 main battle tanks. Coming soon, to a country near "EU." Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

In 2008, Russian tanks invaded and crushed the military forces of the U.S.- and EU-allied Republic of Georgia. Weak objections were raised by the governments of France and Germany -- but little more.

Two years later, French defense contractor DCNS signed a landmark deal to build and sell to the Russian Navy a pair of 16,500-ton Mistral-class amphibious warfare ships, each capable of putting ashore an assault force of up to a 40 tanks, 16 helicopters, and 900 assault troops -- or a combination of the three. The deal, worth $1.7 billion, was the largest sale of Western weaponry to formerly Soviet Russia in recent memory.

One year after that, German defense contractor Rheinmetall joined the Russian arms race, inking a $167 million contract to build a combat training facility for the Russian Army, capable of churning out 30,000 fully trained soldiers per year.

Yes, you read that right. France and Germany, two countries that in the not so distant past fought wars against -- and even invaded -- Russian territory, are now selling weapons to the Russians. Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Adolf Hitler himself must be rolling in their graves.

Or at least they were.

Not so fast, Tex
Fast-forward three years, and once again, Russian troops are on the march into a former Soviet republic, this time invading and annexing the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine -- shooting unresisting Ukrainian soldiers and seizing Ukrainian warships and military bases in the process. This time, while concrete actions to defend a Western ally are nearly as lacking as was the case in the Georgian war, economic sanctions are beginning to take shape.

Counting the effect of the latest round of sanctions announced by the Obama administration this past week, Russian stocks have lost roughly 8% of their value since the start of the Crimean Crisis, while the Russian ruble is down about 10%.

And in a move directly targeting the Russian military at the heart of this problem, Germany announced Wednesday that it is suspending performance of Rheinmetall's contract with the Russian Army, which had been slated for completion this year. France is contemplating a similar move with respect to the two Mistral warships -- one of which, the Vladivostok, is similarly due for delivery this year.

France plays red light, green light with a planned sale of Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, like this one, to Russia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons..

What it means to investors
Now, U.S. investors may be tempted to dismiss all of this as irrelevant to their investments, reasoning that all this just serves France and Germany right -- they shouldn't have been selling arms to Soviet Communists in the first place. But that thinking would be wrong on two points.

First, President Putin isn't a Soviet Communist. Technically, he's more of a Russian imperialist. And second, the reason DCNS and Rheinmetall sought out Russian buyers for their arms is fully applicable to U.S. investors in the defense contracting sphere.

Across America, and Europe, and around the globe, defense budgets are drying up as governments attempt to slim down their finances deal with the aftermath of the financial crisis. This lack of defense spending at home has forced national defense contractors to look abroad for new customers to shore up their revenue streams.

DCNS and Rheinmetall may have chosen poorly in picking Russia as their go-to customer. But some of the places American companies have been selling arms lately are nearly as sketchy:

Arguably, these deals are all necessary to keep the defense industry's revenues flowing. Still, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how any one of these deals could result in significant blowback for U.S. foreign policy -- and significant damage to the same defense contractors that are now eagerly seeking out these sales around the globe.

Caveat investor.

America is selling Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to customers in the Middle East. What could possibly go wrong? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


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  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2014, at 3:17 AM, ilia7777 wrote:

    I was born in Russia and spent 20 years abroad, I have Canadian passport, but I choose to come back and I have been living in Russia over the last two years. We have not seen such information war since the era of cold war. The West is united against Russia, but the West isn't even tryng to be objective. Lawarence Summers in his article in WSJ calls illigitimate gov-t that came power legitimate, the one that was before illigitimate. Putin is compred to Hitler left and right. In your article you've said that Russians were shooting unresisting Ukrainian soldiers. Russians didn't shoot a single person in Ukraine. Enough with the lies. Nobody wants to recall the facts. The facts are that new gov-t is illegitimate, all agreements signed by previous one have been voided. The facts are that there was a referendum where 96% voted for joinig Russia, The referendum is as legitimate as bunch of people on US payroll overthrowing existing gov-t elected by people. The fact is that Crimea was always Russian territory given to Ukraine as present by stupid Churshev and the fact is that people living there don't want to be a part of poor nationalist state.US has no right to even talk after everything that US has done all over the world. Europe doesn't care about human rights in Urkaine, Europe just want a bigger market. Europe wants to make from Ukraine another Greece with local economy wiped out. US is playing games in Georgia and Ukraine. For some reason German TV has decided to say the truth but the whole world is brainwashed by the media.

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Rich Smith

As a defense writer for The Motley Fool, I focus on defense and aerospace stocks. My job? Every day of the week, I'm monitoring the news, figuring out the winners and losers, and tracking down the promising companies for you to invest in. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the most important developments in defense & aerospace, and other great stories.

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