Britain could buy weapons from its former Cold War foe for the first time under a landmark defence treaty, the Telegraph can reveal.
Defence chiefs are preparing to sign a deal that would see British defence companies working jointly on projects with the Russian arms industry.
The treaty allows arms companies to buy kit from Russia – and Russian diplomatic sources said they hope one day to see British soldiers carrying the Red Army’s famous Kalashnikov rifle as a result.
Ministry of Defence sources confirmed the deal creates the legal framework for the British Army to buy Russian equipment, but stressed their main focus is on allowing firms to share information and buy components from one another.
The MoD and the Russian Federal Service for Military Technical Co-operation are now studying the draft text. It could be signed in the spring, Moscow sources said, earlier than previously thought after making quick progress.
The deal covers ‘unclassified’ technology, so it is unlikely to allow co-operation on advanced battlefield equipment such as missile systems.
Nevertheless treaty is regarded by defence chiefs and diplomats as a major step forward in the relationship between Britain and Russia, which went into deep freeze following the polonium murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London and the granting of asylum in Britain to some of Mr Putin’s rivals.
The British and Russian security services have worked together to defend the Sochi Olympics, and last year British veterans of the Arctic Convoys, which ferried supplies to the USSR in World War II, were awarded medals recognising their bravery after decades of prevarication by ministers.
President Putin wants to dramatically boost Russia’s arms exports to compete with the European defence industry. He has also announced a radical expansion in military spending in order to overhaul an army and navy that are reliant on hopelessly outdated weapons from the Soviet era. The deal means that British factories are in line to benefit from those orders.
The Russian authorities are keen for a closer business relationship with Britain. Only 600 British firms currently trade in Russia, compared to 7000 German.
The release of British Greenpeace activists who were jailed after protesting on a Russian oilrig, following lobbying from MPs and extensive back-channel negotiations, was seen privately as a minor diplomatic breakthrough.
The US has in recent years spent hundreds of millions of dollars on buying Russian Mi-17 helicopters to give to the Afghan armed forces, although Congress has protested at Russia's role in supplying arms to the Syria conflict.
In 2010 Russia bought two helicopter carrying warships from France, in a deal that caused surprise in a country that had strong shipbuilding industry during the Soviet period.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Work is ongoing on a Military Technical Cooperation Agreement (MTCA) between the UK MOD and Russian Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation which will provide a framework for Russian and UK defence companies to cooperate at an unclassified level.”