Russian Federation Vladimir Putin may fancy himself as a modern Czar, and even compared himself recently to Peter the Great. Part of his motivation for his invasion of Ukraine was to rebuild the former Russian Empire. However, one area where Putin certainly differs from Peter the Great is in the appreciation for western culture.
Putin has shown his disdain for the west, yet, for centuries the Russian court – along with much of Europe – looked to France as the center of culture. Moreover, the Russian nobility spoke French as it was part of a “code” that only the elitist society could understand. The use of French fell out of favor in the early 19th century as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, yet France and Russia resumed closed ties in the years leading to the First World War.
Fast forward a century and it appears some in the Kremlin are showing an affinity for France again – or more aptly French military technology.
A T-90 With French Hardware
According to recent reports, Ukrainian forces had captured one of the Russian military’s state-of-the-art T-90 Vladimir tanks in late May, and quickly found that much of the equipment wasn’t made in Russia. Instead, it seems that the Kremlin had employed a kit made by French defense contractor Thales.
It remains unclear how or when Russia may have acquired the components, but there has been an arms embargo in place since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. That has precluded western defense contractors from supplying such military hardware to Russia, but the UK’s Sun newspaper reported this week that some €346 million worth of military gear was sold to Russia by continental manufacturers since then.
“The French people who are opening their doors to Ukrainian refugees should be aware they are fleeing a war aided by their country’s own firms,” Ukrainian politician Alex Goncharenko told the newspaper.
What Does Thales Say?
The British news outlet also received a response from Thales, the maker of the hardware found in the Russian MBT.
“Thales has always strictly complied with French and international regulations, which is why – since the European embargo measures taken in 2014 – we have not signed any contracts with Russia in the defence sector,” a company spokesperson was quoted as telling The Sun. “Messages have been recently published on social networks showing our optronic equipment on board Russian military platforms.”
The spokesperson added, “We share the emotion generated by these images, but it is important to remember that this equipment was delivered within the framework of contracts signed before the embargo decreed in 2014.”
Russia’s Advanced Tank?
The Kremlin has touted the capabilities of its T-90M – sometimes known as the “Vladimir” in honor of its chief designer Vladimir Potkin. However, the moniker is also being used among Ukrainian forces as a way to mock Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps given that it is employing French technology, the Kremlin should dub it “Napoleon” instead. Of course, there have been past reports that Russia has had to pull microprocessors and other computer chips from appliances such as dishwashers to keep its tanks running. For someone who has so little regard for the west, Putin seems to depend on it.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.