Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 32

Reverberations continued in Moscow yesterday over a British newspaper report claiming that Russia had signed a secret, US$160 million deal to reinforce Iraq’s air defenses and to upgrade its MiG fighters. The allegations were published in “The Sunday Telegraph” this past weekend and drew immediate denials from Russia’s Foreign Ministry (see the Monitor, February 15).

Yesterday a host of other Russian officials joined in those denials. A spokesman for Rosvooruzhenie, the state arms export company which administers the bulk of Russia’s foreign arms sales, said that the company had no knowledge of arms deals with Iraq. He also said that Rosvooruzhenie signs no foreign arms contracts without fully informing the government.

Much the same sort of denial was heard from MAPO MiG, a part of the MAPO defense industrial concern which produces the world-famous MiG aircraft. A spokesman for MAPO MiG said that the company strictly observes all international prohibitions against trading with Iraq. He said that he could not speak for the Nizhny Novgorod-based defense company Sokol, however, which modernizes MiG-21s and MiG-29s independent of the MAPO company.

But a representative of Sokol likewise issued a denial. Although an Iraqi trade delegation visited the company in January of this year, he said, discussions on that occasion touched only on light planes and various civilian products. The spokesman said that Sokol did have a contract to modernize MiGs in India and was currently negotiating similar deals with other countries. But Iraq was not among them, he said (Russian agencies, February 15). In the wake of the “Sunday Telegraph” report, some observers have speculated that the alleged Russian-Iraq arms deal was carried out by one or more Russian defense enterprises independent of government oversight.

A top-ranking Russian Defense Ministry official, meanwhile, charged yesterday that the “Sunday Telegraph” piece was “pure invention, if not a planned provocation.” That same sort of line was taken in a Russian government press release, which said that Russia scrupulously observes all UN resolutions related to Iraq. The statement charged that the British newspaper piece was intended to cast a shadow over Russia’s diplomatic efforts to negotiate a settlement to that conflict. The government statement also compared the British article to a “Cold War style disinformation” campaign (Russian agencies, February 15).