Friday, January 11, 2013

Russia, Ukraine sell arms to Syria, Iraq

Russia and Ukraine, old hands at selling arms in the war-torn Middle East, are reported to be providing weapons, paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to anti-government rebels in Syria and for the regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, courtesy of the Pentagon.

The Eurasia Daily Monitor, published by the Jamestown Foundation think tank of Washington, reported recently that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, has shipped several consignments of weapons to insurgents fighting the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad "through Saudi proxies."

"Weapons crates found in the Syrian city of Aleppo showed the arms were delivered from the Ukrainian port of Gostomel and exported by Dastan Engineering from LVC (Luhansk Cartridge Works), a major ammunition manufacturing plant in Luhansk," the report noted.

One of LCW's main exports is the 7.62mm cartridge used in AK-47 assault rifles, which are used by both sides in the Syrian civil war, in which a recent U.N. report said some 60,000 people have been killed since March 2011.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both Persian Gulf monarchies, are bitterly opposed to Assad's republican regime, which is a close ally of Iran, Riyadh's archrival for supremacy in the gulf region.

Russia is Assad's paramount ally on the international stage, particularly on the U.N. Security Council. Moscow has long been a key arms supplier of the Damascus regime, going back to the Cold War era.

Ukraine, once a Soviet republic, was deeply integrated into the Soviet economy. Kiev inherited a major arms industry when the Soviet Union collapsed. That included one-third of the Soviet space industry.

The East European country has become notorious for providing weapons to warring countries in Africa and the Middle East, often in defiance of U.N. arms embargoes.

Ukrainian arms have been identified with some of the world's bloodiest conflicts and most notorious governments, including Saddam Hussein's brutal regime in Iraq that was toppled by the Americans in 2003 and more recently the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The Syrian civil war represents only the latest case of Ukraine being involved in supplying weapons to an ongoing violent conflict," Eurasia Daily Monitor observed.

"For example, the Central African Republic and Chad each purchased Mi-28B combat helicopters and portable air-defense systems from Ukraine that in both cases were used in domestic civil wars and to support guerrilla groups in neighboring states."

Ukraine is also reported to have supplied 200 tanks worth $100 million to Ethiopia since 2010.

Ethiopia is engaged in fighting rebel groups in the Ogaden region and has tense relations with neighboring Eritrea. The two countries, among the poorest in the world, fought a bitter border war in 1998-2000.

In 2011, Ukraine supplied tanks and upgraded armored personnel carriers to Sudan, along with 30 BM-21 Grad armored rocket launchers, 30 122mm 2S1 Hvozdika self-propelled artillery guns and 43 anti-missile systems.

"Some of the weapons used by Sudan against the newly independent South Sudan," which formally broke away from Sudan in July 2012, "included tanks from Ukraine," the newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda reported June 28.

"By their clandestine nature, Ukrainian arms deliveries to the Syrian rebels resemble Ukrainian arms supplied to the Croatian army and Kosovo Albanian separatists in the 1990s as part of covert operations supported at the time by the United States," Eurasia Daily Monitor noted.

Intelligence Online, a Paris website, reported the Americans have procured Russian weapons "from discreet intermediaries" to equip the Iraqi and Afghani armies.

Intelligence Online said the U.S. defense budget approved by Congress last month included an amendment introduced by Republicans and Democrats that imposed sanctions on Russia's defense export arm, Rosoboronexport, for supplying the Syrian army.

The move has caused some embarrassment at the Pentagon since it, too, has received supplies from the Russian armaments group," Intelligence Online added.

"In June 2011, Washington shelled out $375 million for 21 Mil Mi-17 V5 Russian helicopters for the Afghan air force and in February this year, it paid Rosoboronexport another $5 million for light arms to Afghanistan."

The deals were reportedly negotiated by a small Tampa, Fla., distributor, Bulova Technologies, "which specializes in 'non-conventional' arms and represents Rosoboronexport in the U.S.

"Bulova has also supplied U.S.-financed tanks and light arms to the Iraqi army."

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