Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

    Middle East
     Jan 7, 2010
Russia, China keep toehold in Yemen
By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK - Russia has stolen a march over the United States in the multimillion-dollar arms market in cash-strapped Yemen, whose weapons purchases are being funded mostly by neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The Yemeni armed forces, currently undergoing an ambitious modernization program worth an estimated $4 billion US, are equipped with weapons largely from Russia, China, Ukraine, eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.

With the attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day by a Nigerian student, reportedly trained by al-Qaeda in Yemen, the administration of President Barack Obama has pledged to double


Yemen’s military and counter-terrorism aid, to nearly $150 million, to strengthen the besieged government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen receives assistance under several US-funded programs, including Foreign Military Financing, International Military Education and Training, Non-Proliferation, Anti-terrorism and De-mining, and Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.

But the proposed military aid to Yemen - all of it gratis - along with US arms supplies, is negligible compared with weapons, military training and technical expertise from non-US sources.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), one of the world's best-known think-tanks researching arms control and disarmament, Russia accounted for nearly 59% of all major weapons deliveries to Yemen from 2004 to 2008, followed by Ukraine at 25%, Italy at 10%, Australia's 5%, and the United States at less than 1%.

Dr Paul Holtom, director of SIPRI's Arms Transfers Program, said Russian media have reported that Yemen has signed a deal to buy an estimated $1 billion worth of arms from Moscow (with some reports giving figures as high as $2.5 billion).

These weapons, he said, included additional MiG-29 combat aircraft, helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles. Holtom said there were also published reports suggesting these purchases were part of a proposed $4-billion military modernization program.

But he said he did not have an update on the degree of progress made on these arms deals.

Dan Darling, Europe and Middle East Military Markets analyst at the Connecticut-based Forecast International Inc, a leading provider of market intelligence on the military, said that in terms of primary arms suppliers to Yemen, "almost everything revolves around Russia".

The core of the Yemeni Air Force is of Russian legacy, including MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters and Su-22 fighter-bombers, he said.

From 2001 through 2008, Yemen received $1.4 billion worth of arms, according to the US Congressional Research Service, with $600 million in weapons from Russia.

China provided $200 million worth of armaments, while about $400 million in arms were from a mix of former Soviet republics and eastern European nations (mainly Ukraine, but also Belarus, the Czech Republic and Poland) as well as Italy.

A resource-starved Middle Eastern nation, Yemen has negligible quantities of oil and is categorized as one of the world's poorest countries. The US State Department has described Yemen as "desperately poor" but a "vital counter-terrorism partner".

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia had provided about $2 billion in aid to Yemen - "an amount that dwarfs the $150 million in security assistance that the United States will ask Congress to approve for the 2010 fiscal year".

With the new terrorist threat from insurgents in Yemen, the United States is gearing itself for a virtual new battle front against al-Qaeda - besides Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Darling of Forecast International Inc said: "My take is that Washington understands how crucial Yemen is to regional security and stability."

He said the country’s proximity to Saudi Arabia - from which many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to have crossed into Yemen - and its importance in terms of shipping lanes at the mouth of the Red Sea and in terms of combating piracy in the area make ignoring Yemen a risk the US is unwilling to take.

The recent spate of fighting with rebels in the north, combined with the pressures facing Saleh and the belief that al-Qaeda may have found a sort of sanctuary in Yemen, means that the country will garner more and more attention within US government circles, he said.

"The State Department realizes the looming potential for disaster in Yemen, where a combination of civil strife, an exploding population, negligible oil reserves, a structurally weak economy, high rates of poverty and unemployment, and deteriorating water supplies all threaten to turn the country into the proverbial failed state," Darling said.

"How they intend to combat this possibility is beyond my purview, but I'm guessing that you will see greater degrees of development assistance and oversight as to how the money is allocated."

(Inter Press Service)

US push feeds Yemen's gun culture (Jan 5, '10)



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
© Copyright 1999 - 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110