Russian officials have appeared to be on the defensive recently when speaking of the country’s arms exports for 1997. Aleksei Ogarev, the Deputy Head of Yeltsin’s staff, felt compelled last week to deny that exports for the year had been a "complete failure." Without disclosing any official Russian figures, he allowed that foreign studies crediting Russia with arms sales worth some $3.5 billion — second only to the U.S. — did not "correspond to the actual situation." He seemed more comfortable with an estimate by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, which ranked Russia as the world’s fourth largest arms exporter. Ogarev did state that, while the volume of sales had not decreased last year, the hard-currency profit derived from them had gone down slightly.
Foreign Trade Minister Mikhail Fradkov also said that Russia’s arms exports in 1997 "had not weakened," but he called for the export of more high-tech weapons with a greater profit margin. Earlier in the year, Fradkov had pegged 1996 sales at $3.6 billion while noting that this figure referred to the value of the equipment sold and not to the money received for it, since much exported military hardware went to repay old Soviet debts.
Segodnya’s respected military commentator, Pavel Felgengauer, was far more blunt than these two government officials and provided some of the figures they omitted. He charged that employees of the state arms trading company Rosvooruzhenie had for years been lying about the scope of Russia’s arms exports. Felgengauer said that these sales peaked in 1996 when they brought in a profit of just over $2.1 billion. He claimed that the profit from arms exports in the first six months of 1997 had been just $840 million. While the arms exporters had talked of a banner year in 1997 — with some officials suggesting that sales could reach $7-$10 billion — Felgengauer said foreign weapons sales would probably bring in no more than $2 billion. Barring a major war in Asia, he predicted that this would be about as much as Russia could expect to earn from its trade in weapons in the years ahead. He characterized this sum as "not a sizable item" in Russia’s foreign trade balance.
There was one bright note at the end the year when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh announced on December 28 that her country planned to buy an unspecified number of MiG-29 jet fighters. But even this positive news had to have been greeted with some reservations in Moscow, as Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations in the world and also plans to split its purchase of new aircraft between Russia and China. (Russian media, December 26-30)
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