[dehai-news] (IPS) Russia Supplying Legal And ‘‘Illegal’’ Arms to Africa

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 10:48:09 EST

TRADE: Russia Supplying Legal And ''Illegal'' Arms to Africa
By Kester Kenn Klomegah

*MOSCOW, Jan 29 (IPS) - Russia's state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, plans
to grow the volume of Russian armament and military equipment to Africa over
the next four to five years. This comes on top of allegations that Russia is
selling arms to smuggling and contraband rings, thereby contributing to
conflict on the war-torn continent.*

''We have revived our contacts with all African countries that used to be
traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry,'' Rosoboronexport general director
Anatoly Isaykin told a news conference recently. Russia is the world's
second largest exporter of arms, after the U.S..

Rosoboronexport's deputy director, Viktor Komardin, told IPS in an interview
that, ''in the last few years, positive changes have become evident in
Russia's military and technical cooperation with African states.

''In spite of the intense competition in the market, the export of armaments
by Russia since 2001 has attained a steady growth and in 2008 it reached a
high volume. The expansion of supply volumes manifests itself in the growth
of Russian products in different countries and regions on the continent,''
he asserted.

Bright Simons, a researcher on Russian and Sino-African issues at IMANI, an
Accra-based policy think tank that supports a market economy, told IPS that
while the bulk of Russia's arms exports go to former Cold War allies, all
kinds of assorted small arms plus accessories are sold underground in

''Most concerning is that Russia seems increasingly to be selling arms
outside official channels to smuggling and contraband rings, thus sustaining
vicious local conflicts across the continent.

''The illegal trade in Russian arms is by definition impossible to fully
capture, but should be in the region of at least 20 percent of the official
figure, judging by the rate of conflict proliferation in central Africa.''

African states purchased 1.1 billion dollars worth of arms from Russia
between 2000 and 2007.

''One important trend, though, is that China's appears to be supplanting
Russia as the provider of choice for small arms peddlers," Simons told IPS
from Accra, capital of Ghana.

Komardin acknowledged that Africa remains a region of hostilities. The
confrontation has moved to the sphere of mineral deposits and among the
leading antagonists are the West and China, he said. Russia has its own
natural resources and doesn't have to take part in this ''chase of
treasures'', he argued.

Still, Isaykin said Russia was ready to offer potential customers in Africa
''alternative and flexible'' forms of payment for military equipment.

This includes the creation of joint ventures in the fishing industry, mining
and oil industries, exclusive rights for exploration of natural resources in
African countries and deliveries of traditional goods such as diamonds,
cotton and coffee.

''These offers give our African customers additional opportunities to
acquire Russian-made military equipment,'' Isaykin added.

The greatest difficulty in such sensitive regions is that the exporter of
armaments should follow the criterion of ''avoiding harm'' and ''that's why
we give so much attention to the state politics within the framework of the
military-technical cooperation,'' Komardin claimed.

''Our weaponry and armaments are supplied in a way to avoid upsetting the
precarious military and political balance in the regions.''

Rosoboronexport is also building its relations with the African Union, based
on equipping and training of peacemaking forces. Russian helicopters,
mechanised infantry combat vehicles and small arms are useful in challenging
African conditions.

Since Soviet collapse, Russia's influence has considerably diminished but
objectively analysing the situation, Bondarenko said, ''Russia continues to
play a significant role in conflict resolution and enforcing peace on the
continent,'' Dmity Bondarenko, deputy director at the African Studies
Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told IPS.

As a counterpoint to the position that especially small arms trade fuels the
various civil wars in Africa, Bondarenko argued that ''the arms trade is in
fact part of many countries. Besides Russia, the majority of Western
countries and China and Brazil are involved in it.

''I believe that if Russia, or any other country, stops selling arms to
Africa, this will not result in an immediate end to the conflicts as some
argue. The parties involved in these endless conflicts in Africa will easily
find other sources of purchasing and securing arms.

''I am sure that the arms trade deepens the conflicts further, but it is by
no means the primary cause,'' Bondarenko added.

The conflicts are the outcome of a mixture of Africa society's internal
problems - ethnic and religious differences, the struggle for power and weak
economy - and the interests of western corporations in Africa, he
maintained. There are vivid examples of conflicts centered round diamond and
other mineral extraction in western and southern Africa.

The former Soviet Union supplied arms to many African countries on an
ideological basis in its standoff with the West, but now Russia is pursuing
arms sales as a commercial exercise.

Rosoboronexport's traditional importers of Russian weapons include Algeria,
Angola Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ethiopia, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique,
Namibia, South Africa and Uganda.

The most popular types of weaponry bought from Russia are Sukhoi and MiG
fighters, air defense systems, helicopters, battle tanks, armoured personnel
carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.

Russia also maintains traditionally strong positions in the sales of small
arms and light weapons, and anti-tank and surface-to-air missile systems.

African countries are attracted to the ''reliability and competitive
prices'' of Russian arms. Russian-made helicopters have traditionally met
with high demand in Africa. According to various sources, Russia has
supplied over 700 helicopters, including Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopters,
to African countries.

According to Isaykin, ''We are offering a variety of post-sale services to
our traditional customers, prioritising repair services of helicopters as
well as MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29 and Su-24 combat aircraft, and also pilot

Russia has been striving in recent years to regain its competitive edge in
the global arms trade. It sold arms worth 7.4 billion dollars in 2007 and
was due to boost its arms exports to eight billion dollars by the end of

As a way of growing its arms trade, Russia concluded inter-governmental
agreements on military-technical cooperation with the majority of African
states and established bilateral intergovernmental and interdepartmental
commissions as part of the cooperation.

The target now is to ensure the effectiveness of these mechanisms and to
enrich declarations of intent with long-term and medium-term cooperation
programmes. (END/2009)

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