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Defense Watchdog ‘Outguns’ Think Tanks

Published: August 6, 2014 (Issue # 1823)



  • Ruslan Pukhov’s CAST is a rarity in an industry dominated by the state.
    Photo: For SPT

  • A Buk missile launcher, the same weapon accused of destroying flight MH17.
    Photo: Vladimir Filonov / SPT

After the neglect and decay of the turbulent 1990s, Russia’s defense industry has become a hive of activity.

The country exported almost $17 billion worth of military equipment from 2012 to 2013, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, and a whopping $650 billion is currently earmarked for a domestic rearmament program through 2020. Defense industry officials are also racing to replace equipment imports with domestic production in an effort to help Russia cope with U.S. and EU sanctions, and the recent cutoff of military ties with Ukraine.

The chances are that any company gunning for a piece of that market will at some point come into contact with the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, or CAST, a for-profit think tank.

CAST is best known for its bimonthly magazines Eksport Vooruzheniy (Arms Exports), which is published in Russian, the English-language Moscow Defense Brief, and Periscope, a Russian-language media digest. But CAST also does market analysis and “miscellaneous defense crap that brings in money,” according to its founder, Ruslan Pukhov.

CAST has been around for 17 years — an impressive stint for any Russian company, let alone in the defense industry, which is dominated by the state and plagued by occasional bouts of spy mania.

It does not exist in isolation — Russia has plenty of military analysts and people studying its arms industry — but CAST stands out among its competitors like a pirate at a forex trader convention.

This is partly due to its founder’s personality: In a field dominated by heavy-jowled, ponderous men and soft-spoken military nerds, Pukhov is known for his rapier wit and, unofficially, the ability to deliver analysis using expletives.

An ironic message is displayed on CAST’s website: “We don’t sell weapons :) (although we have been asked to, on occasion).” You would hardly expect to see this on the website of the Institute of Global Security Problems in Moscow or even SIPRI.

But more importantly, CAST is a rare example of a privately owned — and thriving — company in a field populated by state institutes and think tanks affiliated with various governmental agencies and state-run corporations.

The St. Petersburg Times sat down with Pukhov to find out how to make money researching the Russian arms market, how to dodge conflicts of interest and spy allegations, and why so-called Sunday defense analysts are more useful than having access to classified information.

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