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The global arms race between the U.S. and Russia

Money, weapons and geopolitics are colliding all over the world as Russia — the world's second-biggest arms exporter — seeks to narrow the gap with the U.S.

Note: The Trend Indicator Value unit is based on known costs of some weapons systems and represents the transfer of military resources rather than financial value; Data: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Snapshot: Standing beside Vladimir Putin earlier this month in Ankara, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the purchase of an advanced Russian S-400 air defense system was a “done deal,” despite protests from Turkey’s NATO allies. Putin said delivery of the system would actually be accelerated.

The big picture: As in the Cold War, choosing to buy arms from Russia or the U.S. is "absolutely a political statement," says Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Center.

  • For Turkey and Erdoğan, this is an opportunity "to leverage intimate ties with Russia to gain more from the U.S., particularly in Syria," according to Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
  • Meanwhile, Russia exported $1.1 billion in arms last year to Egypt, historically a top U.S. customer, per SIPRI. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is hedging his bets between Moscow and Washington, and he's not the only leader in the region doing so.
  • Russia is making some inroads across the Middle East, but “competition in the region is much more intense than in Asia,” by far "the most important export market for Russian arms,” according to a Chatham House report. 56% of Russia’s arms exports since 2000 went to India or China.
  • Stronger U.S.-India ties pose a threat to Russia’s dominance in that market, but those ties have also pushed Pakistan and Russia closer together. The last two years were the first in more than a decade that Pakistan imported more Russian than American weapons.

The bottom line:

  • Weapons exports are “one of the few areas of manufacturing in which Russia can be considered a world leader,” and Moscow’s “efforts to cultivate new relationships across the world... have proven successful,” per Chatham House.
  • The U.S., which exported to twice as many countries as Russia last year, has some advantages, according to Stohl: “Russia doesn’t have all of the systems” wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia (the top U.S. customer) want, and many countries are afraid to jeopardize their relationships with Washington.
  • Russian arms, however, come with fewer strings attached.

Go deeper: Cold War 2.0.

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Haley Britzky 7 hours ago
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Extremist with ties to 9/11 captured by U.S.-backed Syrian forces

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand guard on a rooftop.
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces stand guard on a rooftop in Raqa on October 20, 2017. Photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German extremist who is believed to have links to the 9/11 attacks, is being questioned by the Syrian Democratic Forces, NBC reported Wednesday, citing an AFP report, and CNN confirmed on Thursday.

Why it matters: Per CNN, Zammar "is believed to have recruited some of the perpetrators" for the 9/11 attacks. Zammar was "a well-known figure in the Muslim community (and to German and U.S. intelligence agencies by the late 1990s)," the 9/11 Commission Report stated, according to NBC. Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told CNN that Zammar "was captured more than a month ago by SDF partners as part of their ongoing operations to defeat ISIS inside Syria."

Dave Lawler 10 hours ago
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Trump and Kim's summit of surprises

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Mike Pompeo's secret visit to Pyongyang is the latest in a series of dramatic events in the run-up to the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. It’s almost certainly not the last.

The big picture: "Part of this is normal, but we've got a wacky situation here," says Jim Walsh, an international security expert at MIT who has taken part in previous negotiations with North Korea. When it comes time to present a "final package," he adds, "surprises won't fly."