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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Russian military industries take aim at North Africa

MOSCOW Russia has targeted former Soviet allies in North Africa as potential military clients.

Officials and analysts said Moscow has been discussing major weapons deals with such countries as Egypt, Libya and Morocco. They said Russia has used the $7.5 billion arms deal to Algeria in March 2006 as the model for the rest of North Africa.

"The Algeria deal will trigger a pride race among the North African nations," Ruslan Pukhov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said.

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Algeria agreed to purchase fighter-jets, air trainers, main battle tanks and air defense systems in exchange for the elimination of its $4.7 billion debt to the former Soviet Union, Middle East Newsline reported. Under the deal, Algeria must first pay for the weapons before Moscow writes off the debt.

Officials said Libya and other North African states also owe billions of dollars to Moscow from the Soviet era. They said Moscow has offered to write off their debt and develop their energy industries as part of a major weapons deal.

Libya owes Russia $4.3 billion from the Soviet era, officials said. They said Libya has sought to modernize its military, but has failed to reach agreement with Western suppliers.

"In absence of means to force some of its debtors to pay, the most logical thing Russia can do with such debts is to use writing them off as a fare to access local arms markets," Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow branch of the Center for Defense Information, said.

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