MOSCOW Ñ Russia hopes that U.S. threats against Syria will
result in arms sales to the regime of President Bashar Assad.
"As a result of war in Iraq and accusations against Russia of alleged
illegal deliveries of arms to Baghdad, applications for Russian weapons
systems soared," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said. "In the
past month the number of applications to the Russian Defense Ministry from
very many countries soared. Thank you for free advertisement. There is no
doubt that war in Iraq whipped up the arms race not only in North Korea, but
all of the world."
Ivanov did not mention Syria, but other officials said Damascus has
expressed the most serious interest in the purchase of Russian anti-aircraft
systems, Middle East Newsline reported. Moscow has promoted the S-300 long-range air defense system, but
industry sources said the Assad regime might decide on an upgrade of the
Russian industry sources and analysts said Syria might finally sign
contracts for the purchase of anti-aircraft, tank upgrades and anti-tank
missiles. They said some of the Russian weapons demonstrated their
effectiveness against U.S. aircraft and tanks in the war against Iraq.
"If Iraq had real air defense, then the U.S. Air Force would have had
serious difficulties," Russian deputy air force chief Lt. Gen. Yuri Bondarev
said. "I am confident there will be more demand for such systems."
Russian defense sources said military orders so far in 2003 have
increased by more than 10 percent over the same period during the previous
year. They said Moscow expects the greatest demand in the Kornet-E anti-tank
missile, grenade launchers and night vision systems.
"A lot of countries Ñ especially Muslim ones Ñ evince their interest
in compact anti-aircraft complex Phoenix, which is capable of detecting and
downing air targets," Russian defense analyst Ahtyam Ahtyrov wrote in the
Pravda daily. "The demand on anti-ballistic missile systems and heavy
armored vehicles grows too."
Even before the U.S. threats against Syria, Russian officials expected
Iran and Syria to be leading clients of Russian-origin weapons. Iran has
been the biggest importer of Russian weapons, with $3.6 billion in purchases
from 1999 to 2001.
Syria has discussed a huge arms package, estimated at more than
$2 billion. But the negotiations have been stymied by a dispute over Syria's
$11 billion debt to Moscow, incurred during the Soviet era.
Russian officials have urged Syria and other Middle East clients to
order advanced models of anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems. They assert
that Russia's Kornet anti-tank missile and the RPG-7 anti-tank grenade
launcher disabled U.S. M1A1 main battle tanks in Iraq.
The CIA, in its latest proliferation report, asserted that Syria
continues to acquire "relatively small quantities of advanced conventional
weapons from Russia and other former Soviet-bloc suppliers." The report said
Syria's debt to Russia and the Arab country's inability to fund large
negotiations for a large weapons purchase.
"Damascus wanted to acquire Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems,
MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, and T-80 or T-90 main battle tanks, as well as
upgrades for the aircraft, armored weapons, and air defense systems already
in its inventory," the report said. "No breakthroughs in the sales or debt
issue have been noted since Syria's defense minister met with high-level
Russian officials in Moscow in May 2001, although high-level delegations
continued to discuss weapons trade."