Another Wikileaks cable – a secret one, not merely confidential – from our Caucasus ethnologist and bestest bud at the State Department, William Burns. Dated October 2007, it describes America’s perception of Russia’s global arms trade and emphasizes its concerns that many of its partners are “rogue” or “anti-American” states like Syria, Iran and Venezuela. However, Burns is intelligent enough to acknowledge that the Russians have their own economic, political and cultural reasons for doing things they way. Though obliged to provide suggestions on how to make Russian politicians see eye to eye with the US on the matter, it is likely a quixotic endevour.
Russia is expanding arms exports, seeking ties beyond its traditional partners India and China. (Burns correctly predicted that the Russia – China arms relationship will wane due to Chinese reengineering, copying and reproduction of Russian military products). The capture of most NATO and former Soviet markets by US and European military companies is the primary economic agent behind Russia’s courting of states that Washington has bad relations with. In reply to Western objections, Russia tends to reference “multilateral arms controls regimes (e.g. Wassenaar Group, MTCR, etc.), UN resolutions, or Russian law” in justification; and US protests against its entertainment of “Chavez’s grandiose regional visions” are believed, by the RF Foreign Ministry and Russian defense experts, to spring from “a “Monroe doctrine” mentality, and not real concerns over regional stability.” Finally, a lack of economic diversification actively PUSHES Russia into the arms trade: as Anatoly Kulikov pithily notes, ”Russia makes very bad cars, but very good weapons.”
Burns then notes that the Russian MIC is an “important trough at which senior officials feed”, citing as an example ”Russia’s decision to sell weapons that the Venezuelan military objectively did not need.” If true, isn’t this just Venezuelan stupidity or corruption? But according to Burns, this is because it’s in the “interest of both Venezuelan and Russian government officials in skimming money off the top.” Color me skeptical. According to Burns’ own sources, the 2006 arms trade between Russia and Venezuela totaled more than $1.2bn, and included “24 Su-30MK2 fighter-bombers and 34 helicopters”; more recently, the two countries began to negotiate the “sale of three Amur class submarines” in a prospective deal worth $1bn. This implies price tags of c.$50mn per fighter and c.$350mn per sub. However, according to my calculations, despite having unit production costs similar to Russia’s, the prices of US gear sold to Arab states are several times higher – c.$170mn per F-16 fighter to Iraq and a cool $360mn per F-15 fighter to Saudi Arabia. This implies that the US sells fighter jets of 1970′s vintage to at least one country AT A HIGHER UNIT PRICE than at which Russia sells its most modern diesel SUBMARINES to Venezuela! So not much spare room at Russia’s side of the “feeding trough”, at any rate…
Then it’s argued there is also a cultural element to Russia’s arms trade policy, namely, an “inferiority complex” with respect to the US that translates into a kind of overcompensating need to prove itself as an independent Great Power in the eyes of the world and its own citizens. This is meant to explain its desire for the “thrill of causing the US discomfort by selling weapons to anti-American governments in Caracas and Damascus.” These arguments are mostly sociological truthiness that I think don’t merit detailed rejoinders.
The analytical decline towards the end is reflected in toothless recommendations, such as a more concerted policy by European, Sunni Arab and Latin American governments, as well as the US itself, to pressure and cajole Moscow into easing back on its weapons sales to “rogue” and US-unfriendly states. Whether or not the recommendation was followed, it is evident that it’d be destined for failure, and I think Burns himself acknowledged this in the cable (“American concerns are interpreted cynically, as the disgruntled complaints of a competitor, and viewed through the prism of a 1990′s story line in which the West seeks to keep Russia down”).
Ultimately, with today’s Russia, it is geopolitics and quid pro quo deals that influence its conduct. To take one germane and ongoing example: The US made concessions during the Reset, e.g. easing back on US companies getting involves with Russia’s modernization and even mooting selling Russia some of its military techs; in return, Russia formally declined to sell the S-300 air defense system to Iran, thus (ostensibly) losing a major lever against Washington. But with the recent Republican victory and rumors of covert US rearming of Georgia, there appeared countervailing rumors of S-300 radar parts making their way to Iran via Russia’s proxy states. The lesson is one that Burns no doubt understands, but cannot state forthright: one rarely gets a free geopolitical lunch.
|07MOSCOW5154||2007-10-26 02:02||2010-12-01 23:11||SECRET||Embassy Moscow|
VZCZCXRO9740 PP RUEHDBU DE RUEHMO #5154/01 2990225 ZNY SSSSS ZZH P 260225Z OCT 07 FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4848 INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 005154
EO 12958 DECL: 10/09/2017
TAGS PREL, ECON, MARR, MASS, PARM, PINR, PINS, RS
SUBJECT: ADDRESSING RUSSIAN ARMS SALES
REF: A. STATE 137954 B. MOSCOW 3207 C. MOSCOW 3139 D. MOSCOW 3023 E. MOSCOW 557 F. MOSCOW 402
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
¶1. (C) Summary: FM Lavrov’s disinterest in establishing an expert level dialogue on arms sales begs the question of how best to address our concerns over Russia’s arms export policy. Russian officials are deeply cynical about our motives in seeking to curtail Russian arms exports to countries of concern and the threatened imposition of U.S. sanctions has not proven successful so far in modifying Russian behavior. Russia attaches importance to the volume of the arms export trade, to the diplomatic doors that weapon sales open, to the ill-gotten gains that these sales reap for corrupt senior officials, and to the lever it provides the Russian government in stymieing American interests. While Russia will reject out of hand arguments based on the extraterritorial application of American sanctions, Russian officials may be more receptive to a message couched in the context of Russian international obligations and domestic legislation, the reality of American casualties, and the backlash to Russian strategic interests among moderate Sunni governments. In making our argument, we should remember that Russian officialdom and the public have little, if any, moral compunction about the arms trade, seeing it instead as a welcome symbol of Russia’s resurgent power and strength in the world. End Summary
Russian Arms Sales Matter
¶2. (C) Russian arms sales are consequential, totaling approximately USD 6.7 billion in 2006, according to official figures. This amount reflects a 12 percent increase over 2005, and a 56 percent increase since 2003. Russian arms sales are expected to total at least USD 8 billion in 2007. Russia has made a conscious effort to improve after-sales customer service and warranties, which has added to the attractiveness of its weapons. As a result, Russian weapons command higher prices than previously. Russia is ranked second only to the United States in arms sales to the developing world, and a sizeable portion of its arms trade is with countries of concern to us.
¶3. (C) While no sales were reported in 2006 to Iran, Syria, or Sudan, in 2007 Iran reportedly paid Russia USD 700 million for TOR-M1 air defense missile systems. While Syrian economic conditions are a natural brake on trade with the Russians, as a matter of principle the GOR is prepared to sell “defensive” equipment such as anti-tank missiles and Strelets (SA-18) surface-to-air missiles, as well as upgrade MiG-23 fighters. The GOR barred the sale of Iskander-E tactical missiles to Syria only after intense international pressure. Venezuela remains a growth market, with arms transfers in 2006 totaling more than USD 1.2 billion, including 24 Su-30MK2 fighter-bombers and 34 helicopters. Russia has an “open arms” approach to Venezuela, and whether it’s the transfer of more than 72,000 AK-103 assault rifles or negotiations for the prospective sale of three Amur class submarines (valued at USD 1 billion), Russia is prepared to entertain Chavez’s grandiose regional visions.
¶4. (C) Defense experts emphasize that the American and European domination of traditional NATO markets and capture of new entrants (and old Soviet customers) from Central and Eastern Europe means that Russia must court buyers that fall outside the U.S. orbit. By definition, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela are good markets for Russia because we don’t compete there.
¶5. (C) While concrete numbers are hard to come by, our best figures indicate that Russian arms sales to its traditional big-ticket customers — China and India — are growing. Russian experts, however, predict a declining trajectory in the medium term. In 2006, Russia completed approximately USD 1.4 billion in sales to China, including eight diesel submarines and 88 MI-171’s, which means the PRC only narrowly edged out Chavez as Russia’s most important customer. Russian defense experts underscore that as China’s technological sufficiency and political influence grow, the PRC will develop increasing military self-sufficiency and greater ability to challenge Russia as a supplier. At the same time, sales to India totaled only USD 360 million. Russia and India, in fact, have signed arms deals worth USD 2.6 billion, but not all deliveries and payments have been made. While Russian experts still downplay the ability of the U.S. to displace Russia in the Indian arms market, for reasons of cost and the legacy of decades’ old dependence, they recognize increasing American inroads and growing influence. Other notable Russian markets include Algeria, Czech Republic, Vietnam, South Korea and Belarus.
A Legalistic World View
¶6. (S) As the recent 2 2 consultations confirmed, Russian officials defend arms sales to countries of concern in narrow legal terms. In answering our demarches, MFA officials always identify whether the transfer is regulated by one of the multilateral arms controls regimes (e.g. Wassenaar Group, MTCR, etc.), UN resolutions, or Russian law. Senior officials maintain that Russia does take into account the impact on the stability of the region in determining whether to sell weapons and shares our concern about weapons falling into terrorists’ hands. This Russian decision-making process has led to a defacto embargo on weapons transfers to Iraq, where Russia is concerned over leakages to Iraqi insurgents and Al-Qaida; to a hands-off policy towards Pakistan, the country Russia views as the greatest potential threat to regional stability (with then-Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov ruling out weapons sales to Pakistan as far back as 2003); and to a moratorium on “offensive” systems to Iran and Syria. Concern over leakage has prompted Russia to tighten its export controls, with the recent institution of new provisions in arms sale contracts for Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) that require end-user certificates and provide Russia the right to inspect stockpiles of weapons sold.
¶7. (S) What Russia has not done is accept our strategic calculus and rule out the possibility of sales to Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Venezuela. The arguments made are broadly similar:
– With Iran, we are told that that Russia will not sell any weapon that violates a multilateral or domestic regime, nor transfer any item that could enhance Iranian WMD capabilities. Sales, such as the TOR-M1 air defense missile system, are justified as being defensive only, and limited by their range of 12 kilometers. While DFM Kislyak told us October 18 that he was unaware of any plans to sell Iran the S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile system, MFA officials previously told us that such sales, while under review, would not violate any Russian laws or international regimes.
– With Syria, Russia also argues that its transfers are defensive in nature, and points to its decision to halt the sale of MANPADS. The MFA maintains that Russian weapons used by Hizballah in 2006 were not a deliberate transfer by the Syrian government, but involved weapons left behind when Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon. Russia argues that tightened end-user controls will prevent any future transfers.
– With Sudan, the GOR denies any current arms trade with the regime, and maintains that Russia has not violated UN sanctions or Putin-initiated decrees. However, based on our demarches, it is clear that — in contrast to Syria — Russia has adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to Sudan’s adherence to its end-use requirements for its existing inventory of Russian/Soviet weapons.
– With Venezuela, both MFA officials and Russian experts believe that a “Monroe doctrine” mentality, and not real concerns over regional stability, is behind U.S. demarches.
What Is Behind the Russian Calculus
¶8. (C) A variety of factors drive Russian arms sales, but a compelling motivation is profit – both licit and illicit. As former Deputy Prime Minister and senior member of the Duma Defense Committee Anatoliy Kulikov told us, “Russia makes very bad cars, but very good weapons,” and he was among the majority of Russian defense experts who argued that the laws of comparative advantage would continue to propel an aggressive arms export policy. While Russian defense budgets have been increasing 25-30 per cent for the last three years, defense experts tell us that export earnings still matter. The recent creation of RosTechnologiya State Corporation, headed by Putin intimate Sergey Chemezov, which consolidates under state control RosOboronExport (arms exports), Oboronprom (defense systems), RusSpetsStal (specialized steel production), VSMPO (titanium producer), and Russian helicopter production, is further proof of the importance the Putin government places on the industry.
¶9. (C) Likewise, it is an open secret that the Russian defense industry is an important trough at which senior officials feed, and weapons sales continue to enrich many. Defense analysts attribute Russia’s decision to sell weapons that the Venezuelan military objectively did not need due to the interest of both Venezuelan and Russian government officials in skimming money off the top. The sale of Su-30MK2 fighter-bombers was cited as a specific example where corruption on both ends facilitated the off-loading of moth-balled planes that were inadequate for the Venezuelan Air Force’s needs.
¶10. (C) A second factor driving the Russian arms export policy is the desire to enhance Russia’s standing as a “player” in areas where Russia has a strategic interest, like the Middle East. Russian officials believe that building a defense relationship provides ingress and influence, and their terms are not constrained by conditionality. Exports to Syria and Iran are part of a broader strategy of distinguishing Russian policy from that of the United States, and strengthening Russian influence in international fora such as the Quartet or within the Security Council. With respect to Syria, Russian experts believe that Bashar’s regime is better than the perceived alternative of instability or an Islamist government, and argue against a U.S. policy of isolation. Russia has concluded that its arms sales are too insignificant to threaten Israel, or to disturb growing Israeli-Russian diplomatic engagement, but sufficient to maintain “special” relations with Damascus. Likewise, arms sales to Iran are part of a deep and multilayered bilateral relationship that serves to distinguish Moscow from Washington, and to provide Russian officials with a bargaining chip, both with the Ahmedinejad regime and its P5 1 partners. While, as a matter of practice, Russian arms sales have declined as international frustration has mounted over the Iranian regime, as a matter of policy, Russia does not support what it perceives as U.S. efforts to build an anti-Iranian coalition.
¶11. (C) A third and related factor lurking under the surface of these weapons sales is Russia’s inferiority complex with respect to the United States, and its quest to be taken seriously as a global partner. It is deeply satisfying to some Russian policy-makers to defy America, in the name of a multipolar world order, and to engage in zero-sum calculations. As U.S. relations with Georgia have strengthened, so too have nostalgic calls for Russian basing in Latin America (which Russian officials, including Putin, have swat down). While profit is still seen by experts as Russia’s primary goal, all note the secondary thrill of causing the U.S. discomfort by selling weapons to anti-American governments in Caracas and Damascus.
Taking Another Run At Russia
¶12. (C) As FM Lavrov made clear during the 2 2 consultations, Russia will not engage systematically at the expert level on its arms export regime. While the prospect of Russia changing its arms export policy in response to our concerns alone is slim, we can take steps to toughen our message and raise the costs for Russian strategic decisions:
– Although U.S. sanctions are broad brush, the more we can prioritize our concerns over weapons sales that pose the biggest threat to U.S. interests, the more persuasive our message will be. Demarches that iterate all transactions, including ammunitions sales, are less credible. Since Lavrov has rejected an experts-level dialogue on arms transfers, it is important to register our concerns at the highest level, and to ensure that messages delivered in Moscow are reiterated in Washington with visiting senior GOR officials.
– In the context of potential violations of international regimes and UNSCR resolutions, Russia needs to hear the concerns of key European partners, such as France and Germany. (In the wake of the Litvinenko murder and subsequent recriminations, UK influence is limited.) EU reinforcement is important for consistency (although Russia tends to downplay the “bad news” that European nations prefer to deliver in EU channels, rather than bilaterally).
– Regional actors should reinforce our message. Russian weapon sales that destabilize the Middle East should be protested by the Sunni Arab governments that have the most to lose. Given Russia’s competing interest in expanding sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the protests of our moderate Arab partners could also carry a price tag for Russian defiance. The same is true for Latin America, whose leaders to date have not made sales to Chavez an issue on their bilateral agenda with the Russians.
– The appearance of Russian weapons in Iraq, presumably transferred by Syria, and the prospect of American and coalition casualties as a result could change the calculus of Russian sales to Damascus. The more evidence that we can provide, the more Russia may take steps to restrict the Asad regime. At the same time, we need to be prepared for the Russian countercharge that significant numbers of weapons delivered by the U.S. have fallen into insurgent hands.
– Finally, providing the Russians with better releasable intelligence when arguing against weapons transfers to rogue states is essential. Our Russian interlocutors are not always impressed by the evidence we use to prove that their arms are ending up in the wrong hands. While we doubt Russia will terminate all its problematic sales for the reasons described above, more compelling evidence could lead the GOR to reduce the scope of its arms transfers or tighten export controls.
¶13. (C) There are few voices in Russia who protest the sale of weapons to countries of concern and no domestic political constraints that tie the hands of Russian policymakers on this score. The pride that Russian officialdom takes in the arms industry as a symbol of Russia’s resurgence is largely shared by average Russians. American concerns are interpreted cynically, as the disgruntled complaints of a competitor, and viewed through the prism of a 1990’s story line in which the West seeks to keep Russia down, including by depriving it of arms markets.