Four Russian Arms Deals That Worry the US

September 23, 2010


Sharon Weinberger Contributor

(Sept. 22) — The Pentagon has put the word out that it is concerned about Russian arms sales to the Middle East, a move likely to set off another round of accusations between Washington and Moscow.

The United States has long criticized some of Russia’s arms deals, and for several years the U.S. even blacklisted Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms export agency, over allegations that it provided weapons to Syria and Iran in violation of U.S. law. But those sanctions were removed earlier this year as part of a broader effort to improve relations with Russia.

Like the United States, Russia is a major arms exporter, supplying countries such as India and China. But which arms sales actually concern the United States? Here’s a look at four major — or purportedly major — Russian arms deals that have set off alarm bells in Washington:

Russian arms deals

Robert Atanasovski, AFP / Getty Images
A Macedonian soldier fires an anti-aircraft missile with the Russian-made Igla launcher.

1. Iran. Russia has long sold military technology to Iran but claims such weapons sales are intended only for the country’s defensive purposes. One of the most contentious sales is the much-talked-about but long-delayed delivery of Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Russia agreed to sell the missiles, which could help Iran repel an air attack on its nuclear facilities, in 2007 but held up deliveries under pressure from the United States and Israel, which also sells military technology to Russia. While Russia insists it has not yet delivered the weapons, Iran now claims to have obtained at least some S-300 missiles from another seller, possibly Belarus.

2. Venezuela.
Russia this year confirmed its plans to conclude an arms deal with Venezuela that could be worth in the billions of dollars, and will include everything from small arms to advanced missiles. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s anti-American rhetoric, along with his arms build-up, has met with pointed criticism from Washington. One weapon that is of particular concern to the United States is the Igla-S Man-Portable Air Defense System, a shoulder-fired missile designed to shoot down aircraft. It is one of the newest — and hardest to defeat — air defense weapons. Venezuela proudly displayed the Russian weapon in public at a parade.

3. Syria. Russia in recent years has reportedly sold Syria everything from advanced radar to fighters, although both countries have at times denied the reports. As with Iran, the U.S. government — and Israel — are worried about the rumored sale of the S-300 missiles to Syria. Now, the Russian government is confirming at least one planned deal with Syria, much to Washington’s dismay: the sale of P-800 Yakhont cruise missiles. “This sale is yet another poke in the eye of the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ policy with Russia,” the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “Deployment of the Yakhonts to Syria is a major threat to U.S. staunchest ally in the Middle East: Israel.”

4. Sudan. Though not quite the strategic threat that Iran or Syria may represent to the United States, Russia’s reported arms sales to Africa, and Sudan in particular, are increasingly worrisome to the U.S. International sanctions prohibit selling weapons to any of the parties fighting in Darfur, but Russian weapons have repeatedly shown up there. Russia, for its part, denies breaking the embargo. Others disagree. “Though China is frequently criticized for its arms shipments to Sudan, Russia has more quietly become Khartoum’s major arms supplier, an activity in which it has been joined by former Soviet states such as Belarus and Ukraine,” writes Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation.

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