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#17 - JRL 7007
Asia Times
January 7, 2003
Russia: Proliferation personified
By Stephen Blank
Stephen Blank is an analyst of international security affairs residing in Harrisburg, PA.

Wherever one looks, in Asia, the Middle East or Colombia, the proliferation of both conventional arms and of dual-use technologies often lies at the heart of the crisis or is a major facilitator of it. And more often than not, Russia is either clearly and deeply involved in this proliferation, or the evidence strongly points to it.

In North Koreas case, there have been repeated reports not only of North Korean efforts to obtain the services of Russian scientists, but also of more direct proliferation. And before the current Korean crisis reached its present stage, reports from Washington suggested Russian complicity in North Korean proliferation.

In the mid-1990s, Russia clearly proliferated weapons technologies to Iraq, while Russian firms (along with a host of Western ones) were listed as having broken the United Nations boycott, though here there is sufficient guilt for virtually everyone.

Russia remains Irans largest supplier and there can be little doubt that Iran is well on the way to imitating North Korea. Iran is not just the beneficiary of North Korean proliferation, it probably will obtain useable nuclear weapons within three to five years.

India's nuclear program, likewise, substantially benefited from Russia's assistance, which was particularly visible in its program for building space launches, and thus missile capability for those weapons. More recently, India admitted that Russia was helping it build the Sagarika nuclear submarine.

Repeated accounts of Sino-Russian military collaboration also point to Russian help with Chinas missile defense and space launch programs, as well as the sale of nuclear powered submarines. Since China has recently insisted on total secrecy with regard to its purchases, it remains an open and critical question just what it is buying from Moscow and what kinds of technological interchanges are occurring between Russian and Chinese scientists.

However, Russian arms salesmen are eagerly seeking to break out of their "client ghetto" and diversify arms sales beyond India and China. Even if we confine ourselves to purely conventional systems, Russian weapons have a nasty habit of ending up in strange places. Two years ago, Colombian authorities discovered a Kilo-class submarine that had been purchased by one of the drug cartels for the purpose of covertly transporting narcotics into the United States. The fact that a middleman with ties to the cartel could reliably obtain this submarine points to a very high degree of corruption in the Navy.

Russian arms salesmen have also been involved in the arms for diamonds trade in Africa that has become a particularly vicious blight on that continent's landscape. Likewise, Russian officials similarly continue to profess their desire for North Korea to buy conventional systems from Moscow if a payment mechanism can be worked out. And the same holds true for states like Libya and Syria. Evidently, the only obstacle to their joining Moscows client list is their shortage of cash.

There were also unconfirmed reports in the American press in 2001, clearly based on intelligence leaks, that the Russians had even sold an encryption machine turned over by the spy Robert Hanssen to Osama bin Laden!

And beyond these reports, Moscow has also clearly used middlemen like Belarus and Ukraine to ship weapons it does not want traced back to it to rogue states and proliferators like Iraq. The current scandal over Ukraine's shipment of Kolchuga anti-aircraft radars to Iraq apparently involved the use of Ukraine as a cover for Russian factories, despite Kiev's adamant denials of responsibility for the entire affair. These denials would carry more weight were it not the case that already in 2000 the Russian press reported that Russias military-industrial complex output had started reaching the Iranians via Belarus, which had few commitments to Washington.

Similarly, cooperation between Minsk and Baghdad has been developing rapidly of late. Official statistics confirm that Belarussian-Iraqi trade turnover in 1999 came to US$6 million. According to Kommersant's information at that time, that indicator was understated at least ten-fold. And since then Belarus and Iraq have steadily tried to expand military collaboration, as has Kiev. As Kommersant reported then, Iraq was eagerly pursuing other avenues for Russian spare parts and dual-use equipment, like optical equipment, in Belarus since Belarus made an excellent way station for the transfer of Russian equipment to Iraq and/or Iran.

In 2000 it was reported that Iraq apparently had obtained from Russian sources a weapon that jams the global positioning system (GPS) of US missiles and satellites, rendering them useless. This product was made by Chelyabinsk University, a major center of military research. As the federal government had stopped financing it, the university helped set up a commercial firm to market its products, by 1998, including this system.

Evidently, Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii secured a contract for Mosenergo Montag Company from Saddam Hussein to reconstruct the Al Najibiyah power station for $65 million, but the company failed to carry out the contract. To placate Saddam, Zhirinovskii brought two models of this jamming device with him to Iraq, which he had obtained from a Moscow commission agency that marketed many military goods of numerous establishments. Because that agency was clearly engaged in price gouging the Iraqis, the professors at the university mobilized their firm and addressed Iraq and Yugoslavia concerning sale of these units, and this led Iraq to buy some 40-45 devices, which work effectively only at a range of 150-200 kilometers. While these episodes confirm the porosity and avarice of the Russian political establishment, they also show that the use of middlemen, like Belarus, Ukraine, and very probably Serbia, has long been established.

A highly dangerous consequence of this proliferation is not only that rogue states are continuing to obtain what they want and need, these sales also encourage them to shop their wares around or to deploy these systems as generic threats against other states. This is not just a case of North Korea selling missiles and nuclear knowhow abroad, dangerous as that is. Iran has also undertaken to sell its Shahab-3 missile to buyers, has threatened to extend deterrence to Hizbullah if Israel retaliates against it, and is busy supplying the Palestinian Authority with weapons to extend and expand its campaign of terror.

It bears mention here that many of the weapons discovered by Israel when it seized the Iranian Karine-A ship a year ago were of Russian origin, and it defies understanding that the Russian authorities who sell these weapons in such quantities are unable to discover or conceive of Irans ulterior motives. Similarly, Admiral Thomas Wilson, director of Americas Defense Intelligence Agency from 1999-2002, testified in his annual report in 2002 that thanks to Russian transfers of anti-ship missiles to Iran, Tehran now can block the Persian gulf for brief periods of time to external shipping. As these shipments are continuing, there is also good reason to suspect that Irans boast that it can now produce these and other missiles entirely through its own means may be well founded.

Thus it does not take excessive imagination to grasp what kind of threats Moscow is busily abetting despite its denunciations of terrorism and proclamations of its opposition to proliferation. Russia proliferates not merely because its factories need money or because their officials are just corrupt thieves who have no concern for the national interest. While undoubtedly these motives are true at least to some extent, they are hardly the whole question. Since arms sales bisect domestic and foreign policy and cut both ways, the motives for these sales do so too. Indeed, Moscow appears to use arms sales as an all-purpose foreign policy tool, as a way to amortize unpayable debt to other states, or even as a way to pay for the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Korean railway project, an offer which Seoul rejected.

One driver of Moscows headlong arms sales resides in its unreformed and unrepentant defense industry. Since its structures and leaders remain unreformed, they seek protection from the global economy and demand special privileges to remain afloat. Second, their spokesmen consistently intone the Stalinist mantra that the defense industry incarnates the most technologically advanced branch or branches of Russia's economy, draws on the most qualified personnel, etc and therefore should receive Moscow's privileges so that it can again become the locomotive of a general economic recovery.

President Vladimir Putin and many key officials have explicitly followed this argument. Yet the defense industry in many cases still cannot adapt to the requirements of a market economy, as Putin has publicly complained. Consequently, arms sales and proliferation of dual-use technologies function as surrogates for reform of this unreformed sector and officials and the industry have a vested interest in selling ever more weapons to perpetuate the dysfunctional policies from which they benefit.

Not surprisingly, this industry is both anti-reform and anti-Western in orientation. Nor is it surprising that the Ministry of Defense shares this orientation. But apart from domestic pressures to sell and proliferate weapons and dual-use technologies and the technologies needed for weapons of mass destruction, there are also compelling foreign policy reasons.

Arms sales gain influence for Moscow in foreign capitals, and a window, if not a handle on foreign states' military developments. They certify Moscow' reliability as these governments' partner, often against both regional and American policies, and strengthen their strategic capability to challenge Washington and limit its ability to project power or act either unilaterally or together with other states.

Washington must then make payoffs to Russia and its partners to realize its goals. This pattern replicates itself with regard to Iran, North Korea, Iraq and China, although each case's specific aspects are obviously different.

The foregoing confirms rather clearly that Moscow, rhetoric aside, still does not take the threat of proliferation too seriously. What it does take seriously is the need for cash, and the unwillingness to reform its structure or the Soviet mentality of action against America, even if it has ruinous strategic consequences. Since governments and states who defy strategic logic ultimately and reasonably rapidly are hoist on their own petard, can we argue that Moscow will somehow escape the consequences of its folly?

If Chechnya, where rebels use mainly weapons sold to them by brutalized Russian soldiers, is any guide, probably not. But given the nature and types of materials being sold by Moscow abroad in its heedless and irresponsible quest for profits and unsustainable marginal political gains, all of us will probably have to pay the price of this reckless and misconceived policy.

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