Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 65

Already strained Russian-U.S. relations took yet another hit over the weekend when the United States announced on April 2 that it was leveling sanctions on three Russian organizations accused of supplying “lethal military equipment” to Syria. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the Clinton administration has decided to sanction the Tula Design Bureau, the Volsky Mechanical Plant and the Klimovsk Central Research Institute for Precision Machine Tool Engineering for their involvement in the sale of advanced antitank weaponry to Damascus. The U.S. decision cuts off aid to these three firms specifically, and bans U.S. imports from–or exports to–them. But U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright decided simultaneously to waive possible sanctions against the Russian government itself for its role in the arms sales to Syria, thus preserving some US$90 million in aid to Moscow. The United States had earlier objected to the Russian arms sales to Damascus because Washington views Syria as a sponsor of terrorism (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, April 2).

Russian military officials and diplomats objected immediately and strongly to the U.S. move. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on April 3 was quoted as calling the sanctions groundless and describing their imposition by Washington as “sheer blackmail.” General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry’s administration for international military cooperation, said the same day that Russia would continue to fulfill its obligation to Syria, despite the U.S. move. He also linked Washington’s decision to developments in the Balkans, saying that the U.S. sanctions should be seen “as part of the U.S. political diktat and its policy of seeking U.S. supremacy in any part of the world.” A Russian Foreign Ministry statement questioned the legality of the U.S. sanctions and said that they constitute yet another blow to relations between the two countries (Russian agencies, Reuters, April 3). Earlier this year the U.S. sanctioned three Russian institutes for aid they were said to have provided to Iranian missile and nuclear development programs.