Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 26

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has reacted sharply to a reported U.S. State Department confirmation that Washington has threatened to cut aid to Russia if Moscow pursues arms dealings with Syria. “We do not recognize the extraterritorial nature of American laws,” ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters on February 5. Observing that no UN sanctions are currently in force against Syria, Rakhmanin said that Russia has every right to conduct military-technical cooperation with Damascus and that it intends to do so in conformity with international norms. Rakhmanin also said that Russia had received assurances from the Syrian government that any military hardware imported from Russia would not be transferred to third countries or to terrorist organizations. He said, moreover, that the sale of antitank missiles to Syria, the deal to which Washington has objected, involves defensive weapons and will not upset the balance of power in the Middle East. The Russian government, Rakhmanin says, has repeatedly told Washington that U.S. threats in this area are unacceptable (Russian agencies, AP, February 5).

Rakhmanin’s remarks follow February 5 reports which quoted an unnamed State Department official as confirming that Washington has threatened to cut some US$50 million in aid to Russia if Moscow sells the antitank weapons to Syria. The U.S. threat, which was reportedly conveyed to Moscow during U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s recent trip to Moscow, was originally reported on February 2 (UPI, February 2; see also the Monitor, February 3).

Since that time, several Russian officials have made it clear that Moscow will pursue its arms dealings with Syria–and, in an apparent reference to Iran, with other partners as well–regardless of U.S. pressures. First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, for example, told reporters on February 3 that Russia, despite its economic problems and pressures from the West, would continue to uphold its positions in the world arms markets. He criticized a U.S. threat to stop Russian launches of U.S. satellites as punishment for Iranian-Russian arms dealings. He also said that Russian diplomacy is strong enough to withstand Western pressures in this area (Itar-Tass, February 3).

Another, unnamed Russia arms official warned on February 3 that Russia would take unspecified countermeasures if Washington and the European Union continued to try–in his words–to oust Russia from the Middle Eastern and African arms markets. Moscow has also been criticized for its arms sales to Ethiopia and other African countries (see the Monitor, December 15). The official said that any losses of revenue which Russia might face due to U.S. sanctions are minor compared with the profits it might earn in dealings arms to countries Washington accuses of supporting international terrorism (Itar-Tass, February 3). In addition to Iran and Syria, those countries are Cuba, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan. Nationalist and communist forces in Russia have long tried to pressure the government into restoring relations with some of these former Soviet client states. A Russian daily suggested on February 4, however, that such talk was mainly bluster. It said that Moscow would be hard-pressed to record significant increases in its arms exports to any regional market. The latest Washington-Moscow exchange comes as a Syrian military delegation continues a ten-day visit to Russia. Syria’s defense minister, meanwhile, is scheduled to visit Moscow in late February to discuss increased Russian-Syrian military cooperation (Itar-Tass, February 2).