Among the potential arms deals discussed during Tsochatzopoulos’ stay in Moscow was the purchase by Athens of Russian S-300 antiaircraft missile complexes. The Greek government announced earlier this year that it was inviting both Russia and the United States to take part in a competitive tender. The United States is to submit a bid for the possible sale to Greece of the top U.S.-made antimissile system — the Patriot missiles. In his remarks to reporters yesterday, acting Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev expressed confidence that Moscow would win the competition. He described the S-300 as the best system of its kind in the world.
In addition to the S-300, Greece is reportedly also interested in other Russian antiaircraft systems, and possibly in warships, jet fighters and Russian armor as well. Discussions between the two sides on these issues have thus far been conducted mostly under the auspices of an intergovernmental commission on military and technical cooperation. During a meeting of the commission in February 1997, the two sides signed a protocol that called for exploration of possible Russian arms sales to Greece. Discussion at that point remained very general, however. (Russian agencies, Xinhua, February 7, 1997) Continued Greek interest in Russian armaments was evident in August of last year when a delegation of Greek generals visited Russia to study various Russian weapons systems. (Izvestia, August 29, 1997) The joint commission met again in March of this year in Athens, where discussion of possible arms deals continued and the two sides prepared for Tsochatzopoulos’ current visit to Moscow.
Moscow has much to gain from any major purchase by Greece of Russian military hardware. Such a move would reinforce ties between Athens and Moscow — at Turkey’s expense. It would also strengthen Russia’s position more generally in the Balkans. As Russian military experts have observed, Russian arms sales to Greece might also open the door to future arms sales by Moscow for other members of the NATO alliance. Given NATO’s impending enlargement and a continuing dearth of arms orders by Russia’s own military forces, finding new markets among NATO countries would be a welcome development for Russia’s cash-strapped defense enterprises. In any event, major arms purchases by Greece would by themselves expand the client base of Russia’s defense complex. That is important for Moscow. Russian arms sales dipped in 1997 after a strong year in 1996, at least in part because the bulk of Russian arms exports have gone to only a limited number of clients — particularly China and India.
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