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Russia's arms sellers hope to profit from Iraq War:


'Thank you for the free advertisement'

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

MOSCOW 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 S-125 Pechora.



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 especially Muslim ones 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 purchases hampered 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."

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