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The real reason Putin/Russia wants Ukraine
The Washington Post
By Michael Birnbaum August 15 at 7:11 PM
Ukraine factories equip Russian military despite support for rebels
The front of a plane is mounted on the administrative center of the Motor Sich engine factory in Zaporizhia, Ukraine. The factory employs tens of thousands in Ukraine's fragile east.
ZAPORIZHIA, UKRAINE — Deep into a conflict that has sundered decades-old ties between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine is still selling military gear over the border to its neighbor, Ukrainian defense industry officials say.
Ukraine’s new leaders have vowed to stop the flow of these defense products, which include key parts for ship engines, advanced targeting technology for tanks and upkeep for Russia’s heaviest nuclear missiles.
New laws passed this week bolster their powers to do so. Kiev says helping to arm Russia is tantamount to equipping an enemy during wartime when Moscow is sending support to separatist rebels, a charge the Kremlin has denied.
But Kiev’s pleas for an end to trade ties have run into strong resistance from workers at companies like Motor Sich, here in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, where 27,000 employees build engines tailor-made for Russian military helicopters and planes. Most senior executives here grew up as part of the same Soviet military-industrial club as their Russian peers.
Ad“We have our own party, the party of Motor Sich,’’ company spokesman Anatoliy Malysh said.
The competing pulls are complicating Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to chart a new course with Moscow at a time when Ukraine and Russia’s economies remain deeply intertwined.
The increasingly bloody conflict in eastern Ukraine is fraying the nation’s historically close relationship with its far larger neighbor. But after nine months of protest and war, Ukraine’s economy is deep into recession, and it can ill afford to lose jobs, particularly in the key eastern industrial regions that are home to many of the defense plants — and where many people are sympathetic to Moscow.
The close ties between the two nations’ defense industries 23 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union may also be a factor in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reluctance to allow Ukraine to slip into a Western orbit, analysts say. Ukrainian defense firms have been critical in the Kremlin’s multibillion-dollar efforts to modernize its military, and the conflict between the two countries has set back those projects.
Since the February ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin has unveiled crash plans to make itself less dependent on Ukrainian exports.
Those plans are “key to Russia’s military and economic security, to our technological and production independence, and to our technological sovereignty,” Putin told a meeting of his advisers last month.
Poroshenko in June issued a presidential order to stop the export of defense products to Russia. But it has had little effect on the ground, where factory managers say they have not formally been told to halt their shipments. If they did stop, they say, the region’s economy would grind to a halt. The foot-dragging has frustrated some officials in Kiev.
“How can you work with your enemy? This is gobbledygook,” said a senior Ukrainian security official, speaking anonymously about a sensitive topic.
AdBut, he said, “This decision will mean the death of factories and enterprises.”
The cross-border traffic touches wide portions of Russia’s military capabilities. Ukrainian gears go into the engines of Russian battleships. Ukrainian guidance systems keep Russian early-warning satellites from straying off track. Ukrainian researchers designed Russia’s heaviest intercontinental ballistic missiles, the SS-18 Satan, and Ukrainian parts go into a wide range of other Russian nuclear weapons.
“It would be unwise to underestimate Russia’s dependence upon the Ukrainian military industrial complex,” said Igor Sutyagin, a London-based military analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, in a research analysis.
Ukrainian research facilities and production plants played key roles in the Soviet Union’s nuclear program at a time when few imagined that Ukraine and Russia would ever become two separate countries. To this day, the hallways of many Ukrainian defense plants are lined with stern-faced portraits of Soviet generals and engineers who took part in developing their country’s fearsome atomic capabilities.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many Ukrainian defense institutions maintained their old ties — and their old suspicions of the West.
Ukrainian defense plants do almost a billion dollars of business a year with Russia, said Anton Mikhenko, a defense expert at the Kiev-based Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies. Ukraine is the world’s eighth-largest defense exporter, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. About 70 percent of Ukraine’s defense exports flow through Russia, analysts say.
Nowhere is there such interdependency as at the Motor Sich factory, which produces nearly all of the engines used in Russian military and transport helicopters, as well as a majority of the country’s transport aircraft engines.
The head of the company’s main Russian competitor, Rostec, told Putin in June that he is able to manufacture 50 helicopter engines a year, although Russia’s demands are for 300 to 350 — most of which are fulfilled by Motor Sich. Rostec pledged to make up the gap by 2016.