Middle East

Russian weapons and foreign rogues
By Stephen Blank

At the highest level, the Bush administration has protested to President Vladimir Putin about Russian arms sales to Iraq. American reports indicate that Russian firms have sold Iraq night-vision goggles, anti-tank guided missiles and jamming devices to counter the US's global positioning system (GPS). Any such sales would constitute a violation of the United Nations sanctions regime on Iraq, and also raise several disturbing points, many of which, unfortunately are not new.

First, reports of Russian proliferation to Iraq are hardly new, nor are

In 2000 it was reported that Iraq apparently had obtained from Russian sources a weapon that jams the global positioning system (GPS) of US missiles and satellites, rendering them useless.
Russia: Proliferation personified (Jan  8, '03)
Asia Times Online

they isolated ones. We know that Russia was selling prohibited technologies for both conventional and nuclear weapons to Iraq in the 1990s. Second, as former UN arms inspector Richard Butler has written, then-prime minister Yevgeny Primakov was instrumental in helping Iraq to stonewall the inspections regime. British and American intelligence agencies have even accused Primakov in public of being on Saddam Hussein's payroll, unprecedented public statements from normally highly reclusive organizations. Nor did this proliferation stop with Primakov.

Russian newspapers have repeatedly reported that Russia's government and arms dealers have established linkages with arms dealers and plants in former Soviet republics like Belarus to sell arms to states like Iraq that could not have been publicly sold by Moscow. Under Putin, Moscow has pursued a systematic policy to tie defense industries in the former Soviet republics to those in Moscow and restore the structure of the old unified Soviet system. One benefit of this policy is Moscow's enhanced ability to hide behind third parties in these kinds of arms sales. Thus proliferation to Iraq is not an isolated case of arms sales gone wild, but rather part of a broader policy that also encompasses Central and Eastern Europe.

For example, virtually every Central and East European government has reported that Russian attempts to subvert East European governments through economic penetration, corruption of politicians, intelligence penetration, etc have continued at least since 1997, if not earlier. Evidence from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltic states is overwhelming and points to a strategic policy decision in Moscow. These linkages that occur through Russia's embassies abroad are also connected to shadowy ties to illegal arms dealers. We have seen that scandals involving arms deals in Ukraine, Serbia and Bulgaria, to cite only some cases, are connected with the provision of arms to rogue states.

Thus Russia, for all its protestations of innocence, as in the case of its continuing nuclear proliferation to Iran and rumors of collaboration with North Korea, shows no interest in upholding the UN's sanctions regime. Clearly as well it shows little actual concern about the threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction worldwide.

Here again it is not alone. China has sold fiber-optic materials to Iraq in violation of the sanctions and has been a major proliferator to Iran, and evidently North Korea as well. Similarly, French arms sales to Iraq or facilitation of third-party arms sales have been described in the New York Times and Washington Times by William Safire and Bill Gertz, respectively. These arms sales cast a lurid light on their rhetoric for opposing the war and for invoking the authority of the UN even as they violate its provisions.

The motives for these sales clearly go beyond the acquisition of money. Russian analysts, for example, regularly announce that arms sales are so tightly controlled by the state that rogue salesmen are no longer a question. Likewise, there is a very strong connection between the arms sales establishment and the government, including the foreign intelligence service (SVR) in Russia, to the point where the arms sales organizations have always been seen as a major source for raising untraceable election funds for Russian politicians. This same connection between arms dealers abroad and Russian intelligence is amply attested to as well in foreign reports. It also is just as unlikely that the Chinese and French arms salesmen are freelancing.

One can only conclude that despite all the protest about the need to uphold the UN and international law, or the anti-terrorist coalition, the temptation to strike surreptitiously at American interests abroad remains too strong for the Russian and other establishments to forego. Unfortunately for these arms dealers this is not an administration that is prepared to forgive and forget. Although some figures of the Russian establishment are either getting rich or staying in business, or gratifying their anti-American reflexes, the gains that they make are inevitably short-term ones. But the costs that they are incurring and which undoubtedly will be exacted by Washington are going to be lasting ones.

Stephen Blank is an analyst of international security affairs residing in Harrisburg, PA.

(©2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Mar 26, 2003

Russia taps nuclear opportunities in Iran (Mar 4, '03)

Germany's leading role in arming Iraq (Feb 5, '03)

Russia: Proliferation personified (Jan 8, '03)


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