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Monday, June 19, 2006

Here Comes Evil Empire Redux

Relying on a Reuters report and quoting Defense Expert Pavel Felgenhaur, India news media are reporting on war-mongering Russia's efforts to supply dangerous weapons to the rogue regimes of the world. If Russia is doing so well economically, why does it need to sell these weapons? If it isn't, now can it afford to alienate the entire free world just as the USSR did, ultimately causing it to collapse?

Missiles to Syria and Iran, warplanes to Venezuela and Myanmar, helicopters to Sudan, Russia goes its own way when it comes to selling arms, seemingly immune to ethical debates that affect the industry elsewhere, reports Reuters.

While European Union members argue over whether to lift a weapons ban against China, almost half of Russia's billion arms sales last year went to Beijing. As the White House struggles to persuade Congress to approve a US-India nuclear deal that some lawmakers fear could spark an arms race, Moscow is completing two atomic plants for New Delhi.

Russia's arms industry is one of the few national manufacturers that can compete with western firms on equal terms, and it is a both a source of prestige and key to Moscow's drive to gain new markets for its exports. "Let's have no illusions, if we stop sending arms to export, then someone else will do it," Sergei Chemezov, head of state arms export monopoly Rosoboron export, said in a rare interview with Itogi business magazine last year.

The trade in weapons is too profitable for the world to refrain from it. Happily, Russia has understood this. The period of democratic romanticism has changed into a period of business pragmatism," said Chemezov, a close friend of President, Vladimir Putin since they served together in the KGB.

But this pragmatism has drawn international criticism, and some experts say the apparent health of Russia's arms exports actually conceals an industry in decline, still making money from the leftovers of the Soviet military past. Russia earns around billion a year from the weapons trade -a figure dwarfed by its exports of energy, metals and timber.Its main clients are India and China, but it has also received orders from Iran, Syria, Venezuela and the Palestinians -buyers some Western countries shy from dealing with.

Russia says it abides strictly by international embargoes, and does not engage in trade with banned regimes. But rights groups criticise it for not unilaterally limiting itself. The International Action Network on Small Arms, IANSA, says Russia has sold weapons to states whose forces have committed abuses.

"In Russia's export control system, there is virtually no reference to controlling arms exports for reasons connected with respect for international human rights and humanitarian law," the network of agencies said in a June briefing paper. Rosoboron export officials declined requests for an interview for this story, but customs figures show Russia's arms exports -of which it controls 90%, have grown by almost 70% since Putin established the agency in 2000.

The Kremlin hopes the increasingly aggressive consolidation of the industry at home will make the export trade a cornerstone of its system of state capitalism, before the post-Soviet decline that has plagued production becomes irreversible.Some experts say that point has already been reached. "The industry is in deep, terrible crisis. I believe it is beyond recovery because no components are produced. They use old components. The industry has disintegrated, and they have sold the equipment," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent analyst who closely follows the Russian arms trade.

Very few new weapons were being designed and more importantly, component factories had closed for a lack of new orders and their skilled workers had dispersed. He said, "This is not an industry, it is a trade. There is no growth in this industry. The Soviet stockpiles were large enough to keep selling for years and years to come, but the trade was not creating employment or any long-term growth."

"This is a sell-off. These are good weapons for Sri Lanka, say, or Africa. They are easy to use for badly trained personnel," he said. "As for the future, it depends where war will happen." General Yuri Baluyevsky, head of Russia's General Staff, said last year he feared the domestic weapons industry might not be large enough to supply the armed forces by 2011.

That, experts say, has led the Kremlin to forge a state arms champion out of Rosoboron export, originally an export agency. It has taken control of Russia's top carmaker Avto Vaz, has been eyeing truckmaker, Kamaz and is in talks to buy into VSMPO-Avisma, the world's top titanium maker, reportedly to get hold of Russian firms with easy access to a metal that is key to the aerospace industry.

"It is a kind of state capitalism. Rosoboron export controls all military exports and we compete well in this sphere, but we need to keep working at it," said Gennady Raikov, a member of parliament who worked for decades in rocket design and aviation.

He said the new consolidated system reinforced in March, when Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov was put in charge of the whole industry, was a return to the Soviet system of having a single over seer of the military-industrial complex. "To perfect our technology, we need to pull together," said Raikov, who said Russian scientists could create systems as good as Western powers but that investment was needed.

Russians couldn't win Cold War I when they were part of a much larger entity, the USSR. What lunacy makes them think they can do so now?

Already, concerns are being reported that Venezuela will become an arms exporter, a neo-Cuba. The Seattle Times for instance:

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez's plans to build the first Kalashnikov factory in South America are stirring fears that Venezuela could start arming leftist allies in the hemisphere with Russian assault rifles.

Chavez denies such ambitions, saying his government bought 100,000 Russian-made AK-103 assault rifles and a license from Moscow to make Kalashnikovs — commonly known as AK-47s — and ammunition to bolster its defenses against "the most powerful empire in history" — the United States.

Some political opponents and critics suspect Chávez, a former paratrooper, has other intentions, such as providing allies like Bolivia and Cuba with arms while forging an anti-Washington military alliance.

"Our president has always had a warlike mentality, but now it appears this mentality is turning into a mission that could easily extend to other parts of Latin America," said William Ojeda, a presidential candidate who hopes to run against Chávez in the December election.
Chávez has said "Venezuelan blood would run" if the United States tried to invade Cuba or Bolivia, though he has not said his government would provide those nations with weapons.
The Bush administration also is concerned about Chávez's intentions.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday that Venezuela appeared to be in the midst of an "outsized military buildup for a country of that size and the nature of the threats" in the region.

"They've already purchased 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles from Russia. So I'm not quite sure what else they might need a factory for," McCormack said. "It certainly raises serious questions about what their intentions are."

The first 30,000 of those rifles have arrived in Venezuela, with the rest due by year's end.
"If the president says he'll send Venezuelans to defend other Latin American nations, nobody should doubt that he's willing to send them weapons as part of his anti-imperialist vision," Ojeda said.

Ojeda pointed out that Bolivia's new socialist president, Evo Morales, referred to Chávez as his "commander" during a recent ceremony marking the 78th anniversary of the birth of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the revolutionary who was captured and executed in Bolivia 39 years ago.

Chávez has provided a helicopter and pilots to Morales to ferry him around in the weeks ahead of a July vote for a constituent assembly that will rewrite Bolivia's constitution.

Chávez vehemently denies that Venezuela's recent defense deals worth an estimated $2.7 billion constitute a military buildup or that he poses a threat to regional stability, as U.S. officials allege.
His military advisers argue that Venezuela needs new rifles to replace outdated weapons such as Belgian-made FAL assault rifles — and to have enough guns for up to 2 million reservists.

Gen. Alberto Muller, a Chávez adviser, said the Kalashnikov factory would be able to produce 20,000 to 30,000 rifles a year. Construction is expected to begin within four to five years, he said, but Chávez may want to build it sooner.

The Kalashnikov is manufactured in more than a dozen countries, including Egypt and Poland. Imitations are also widely produced. It is used by the armed forces of more than 50 countries as well as militant groups from Afghanistan to Somalia.

Muller said there are no plans to export guns because Venezuela will need all the rifles it produces.

But defense analysts say corrupt officials in Venezuela's low-paid armed forces raise the possibility that weapons and ammunition could wind up in the wrong hands — a likely concern in neighboring Colombia, where leftist rebels have been battling the government for more than four decades.

"Colombia will certainly be concerned about the ammunition factories to be built in Venezuela," said Anna Gilmour, a Latin American defense expert at the London-based Jane's Information Group.

Unlike assault rifles, ammunition lacks serial numbers and is thus untraceable.
Then there is the issue of Venezuelan civilian militias.

"I understand the FALs are to be diverted to the new civilian militias, in which case they will be extremely hard to keep track of," and might be quickly resold in the country or abroad, Gilmour said.

Military authorities have said strict controls, including serial numbers inscribed on each rifle, prevent them from being stolen or sold.

Venezuela is also buying 15 Russian helicopters for $200 million, and Chávez said last week that his government would buy 24 Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets.

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