Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 105

Moscow’s intensified efforts to increase revenues from foreign arms sales have reportedly met with considerable success over the past several months. That, at least, was the message which Ilya Klebanov, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversees the country’s defense industrial sector, conveyed last week. Klebanov told reporters on May 24 that his ministry now expects to exceed an earlier projection which saw Russia earning US$4.3 billion from arms sales in the year 2000. Russia had already exported arms worth US$1.3 billion this year, Klebanov said, and it was on target to earn some US$4.5 billion by the end of the year. The Russian minister also suggested that revenue from Russian arms sales would soon rise to approximately US$5.5 billion per year, and that over the next several years Russia would become the world’s second leading arms exporter after the United States. Klebanov attributed Russia’s success to the government’s current willingness to sell the most advanced Russian weaponry abroad. He contrasted this policy of flexibility with that of the former Soviet Union, which Klebanov said had always kept its most modern hardware a secret and which refused to sell it even to Moscow’s closest allies (Reuters, AFP, May 25).

Klebanov’s comments last week come in the wake of a new push by President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to increase Russia’s foreign arms sales. In late January of this year Putin, then the acting president, chaired a meeting of the Russian commission for military and technical cooperation with foreign cooperation at which the political leadership apparently set new targets for foreign arms sales. According to Klebanov, the commission approved a “general concept for military cooperation [with foreign countries] to the year 2010.” Few details were provided, but Klebanov said that the plan reemphasized the importance of arms sales to Russia’s two major clients–China and India–while also calling for increased arms exports to Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. Klebanov also suggested in January that Russia’s main state arms exporting agencies would be pushed by the government to meet higher revenue projections for the year 2000 (see the Monitor, February 7). On May 16 the largest of those three companies revised upwards its figures for total arms revenues in 1999. Rosvooruzhenie reported that it had earned US$2.8 billion last year. The company claimed that this was an increase of some US$800 million over the 1998 total (AP, May 16).

As if to bear out Klebanov’s claims, Moscow also announced last week new developments related to arms contracts with two Middle Eastern countries. On May 24 a spokesperson for Klebanov reportedly confirmed that Russia and the United Arab Emirates had finalized a US$500 million deal which will see Moscow supply the UAE with a Panzir-S1 anti-aircraft complex. The deal was reportedly negotiated by the Tula Design Bureau, which builds the system, and is said to be among the largest contracts ever concluded by a Russian defense enterprise. Negotiations on the sale reportedly began in 1998 (AFP, UPI, May 25; Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 26; Vremya MN, May 27). Meanwhile, Russian sources also reported on May 24 that Moscow had completed delivery of 30 T-72 tanks to Yemen. The delivery came on the eve of a visit to Yemen by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. His trip was devoted to promoting further military-technical cooperation between the two countries. In March a delegation from Yemen visited Moscow, reportedly to hold talks on the possible purchase of Su-27 jet fighters and other Russian military hardware (AFP, May 23; UPI, May 24).

Reports of Russia’s latest arms sale successes come as international attention has also focused in recent weeks on a less savory side of the Russian arms export success story: the provision of arms by Moscow to warring countries in Africa. Earlier this month Russia offered initial opposition to a U.S.-sponsored UN draft resolution calling for an arms embargo on Ethiopia and Eritrea. Moscow did eventually back a weakened version of the measure, but the Russian actions raised suspicions on the Security Council that the Russian government was acting in part to protect what has been a lucrative arms trade with both of the warring African countries (see the Monitor, May 17).

Indeed, several Russian newspapers have recently alleged that Moscow is not only selling military hardware to the two belligerents, but that Russian military personnel may be directly involved in the struggle itself. According to one of those reports, Ethiopia’s recent successes in the war may be attributable in part to the participation of Russian pilots–flying Russian-made aircraft–in the air war being conducted by Ethiopia against Eritrea (Vremya novostei, May 17). The Russian daily Izvestia goes further. It quotes an Eritrean intelligence report which identifies a number of Russian generals by name and suggests that they have helped to plan Ethiopia’s most recent military offensive. Quoting unnamed Russian Defense and Foreign Ministry sources, the newspaper also points to the presence of Russian military advisers in Ethiopia and speculates that they may have become more directly involved in the conflict. None of this is conclusive evidence of Russian involvement in the Ethiopia-Eritrean war. But Izvestia suggests that Russian actions have already soured relations with the government of Eritrea and that Moscow’s role in the conflict could also complicate Russia’s relations with the West and harm its image throughout the rest of Africa (Izvestia, May 25).