MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin)

Last year Russia was ranked No. 1 in the world for the export of arms to developing countries, having concluded agreements on the supply of weapons and military equipment worth $7.1 billion. These are the data supplied by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, which published the report “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1998-2005.” According to this document, excerpts of which appeared in The New York Times, Moscow has leapfrogged ahead of even Washington, which stayed in third place with $6.2 billion in exports. Paris, according to the report, is second. The U.S. Congress estimates that it supplied $6.3 billion worth of arms.
Also of note are some other figures cited by this “sensational” report. First, its data differ widely from the information released early this year by Russia’s Federal Commission for Military-Technical Cooperation, which estimates the value of Russian arms exports in 2005 at $6.13 billion. Considering that the total for last year was a record $5.9 billion (in previous years our exporters barely reached $5 billion), the $1 billion difference between the information from the Federal Commission and the Congressional Research Service requires an explanation.
Washington was quick to provide one. In the information on Russian arms exports last year, it included several battalions of ground-based air defense equipment — the Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system sold to Iran. The report does not say whether Moscow has delivered it or not. It merely states that the deal is worth $700 million and that apart from the missile system, Russia also sold Iran eight aerial tankers able to refuel Iranian aircraft in mid-air. In the total sum of deliveries to Iran the Congress also included the upgrading of Su-24 assault planes, T-72 tanks and MiG-29 fighters. In short, Moscow has become the arms-export champion not only thanks to China and India, but also Iran.
And this is the second thing which calls into question the reliability and accuracy of the analysis done by the Congressional Research Service. The export of military equipment and arms has always been a highly politicized area. Here is a recent example: as soon as President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela began criticizing “American imperialism,” the U.S. Department of State at once clamped down an embargo on supplying Caracas with spare parts for American F-16 fighter planes, grounding the Venezuelan air force. When Chavez turned to Russia to provide him with “Su-30s, the world’s best fighters” and signed a contract to purchase them, the Department of State imposed sanctions on Russia’s Sukhoi aircraft company.
Today, as Vadim Kozyulin, an analyst with Moscow’s PIR Center, notes, the U.S. is trying to scare the rest of the world: The Russians are selling their weapons indiscriminately, it says, fomenting ever-recurring armed conflicts. This is a rank untruth. Russia has always respected international agreements on the arms trade. And unlike certain NATO countries, which supply arms even to Georgia, a country threatening war on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow strictly abides by the requirement not to trade with countries involved in conflicts.
But political motives find expression not only in speculations on export volumes, or in imposing sanctions and exerting heavy pressure on governments that do not buy American arms or buy them at a price not suitable to American firms. The report also reflects political infighting in the U.S. While emphasizing Russia’s greater arms supplies abroad, the report points to the U.S.’s sharp retreat from the lead role (by two slots, from first to third place). All this is happening ahead of Congressional elections; meanwhile, only the most complacent in the Democratic camp are not criticizing the Republicans for all their real and imagined sins, starting with the setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and ending with the loss of traditional arms markets.
Compared with 2004, the report claims, the U.S. has lost a considerable part of this market. In that year, the value of deals concluded by Washington to deliver arms to developing nations reached $9.4 billion. Russia, on the other hand, posted only $5.4 billion. Now the latter is ahead by $1 billion. The conclusion American voters are supposed to draw is obvious: “Vote Democratic. The Democrats will regain America’s leadership in arms export, which means new jobs and more earnings ...”
Meanwhile American arms exports are not faring as badly as some claim. The selfsame New York Times notes that in 2005 the U.S. led in the total value of arms supply contracts with developed and developing countries. Washington’s overall receipts totaled $12.8 billion. Although they slipped from their 2004 levels (when weapons sales fetched $13.2 billion), Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Electric and other multinational majors did not lose out. Take as an example a planned contract to supply Turkey with fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets worth $7 billion. In comparison, the “achievements” credited to Russia by the U.S. Congress in 2005 look unimpressive.
Nor can it be forgotten that the U.S. supplies and even foists its weapons onto NATO countries, which are closed to Russian combat equipment. This is true even of former Warsaw Pact countries, where such equipment has been used for a long time. They cite diverse reasons for this: “A lack of compatibility in basic parameters, calibers, communications and control systems ...” This explanation is beneath any criticism. Greece is a NATO member, but all its air defense systems were made in Russia, which in no way interferes with its command, control or communications links. The simple truth is that not all nations can withstand Washington’s pressure, its threatened sanctions, refused credits and aid, etc.
Or take Israel. Like Moscow, it has been playing up the advantages and merits of Russian-Israeli military-technical cooperation year in, year out. Many employees of the Israeli defense industry are former employees of the Soviet one. We speak the same language ... But no. The U.S. is categorically against it. Washington grants Israel $5 billion to $6 billion in annual credits exclusively for the purchase of American arms. And then it suddenly transpires that the U.S. has markedly dropped behind Russia in the arms trade, a claim that draws ironic smiles from experts.
Kozyulin, the Russian defense expert, says: “Russia should thank the U.S. for hailing its success in the arms trade.” But he remarks that the methods used to assess the financial prowess of a country on the world arms market are far from perfect. One method is employed by the United Nations, another by the Stockholm SIPRI Institute, still another by the London Institute of Strategic Studies, which puts out The Military Balance publications. Moreover, politicians, experts and journalists in every country often exploit this contradictory information for their propaganda ends. This, of course, casts grave doubt on the reliability of the figures cited.
The UN General Assembly has recently decided to set up a task force to draw up international laws and regulations for arms trading. Kozyulin believes that once they are passed, the figures will hopefully no longer be as misleading as they are today. -0-