TRADE: Russia Supplying Legal And ‘‘Illegal’’ Arms to Africa

  • by Kester Kenn Klomegah (moscow)
  • Inter Press Service

‘‘We have revived our contacts with all African countries that used to be traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry,’’ Rosoboronexport general director Anatoly Isaykin told a news conference recently. Russia is the world’s second largest exporter of arms, after the U.S..

Rosoboronexport’s deputy director, Viktor Komardin, told IPS in an interview that, ‘‘in the last few years, positive changes have become evident in Russia's military and technical cooperation with African states.

‘‘In spite of the intense competition in the market, the export of armaments by Russia since 2001 has attained a steady growth and in 2008 it reached a high volume. The expansion of supply volumes manifests itself in the growth of Russian products in different countries and regions on the continent,’’ he asserted.

Bright Simons, a researcher on Russian and Sino-African issues at IMANI, an Accra-based policy think tank that supports a market economy, told IPS that while the bulk of Russia's arms exports go to former Cold War allies, all kinds of assorted small arms plus accessories are sold underground in Africa.

‘‘Most concerning is that Russia seems increasingly to be selling arms outside official channels to smuggling and contraband rings, thus sustaining vicious local conflicts across the continent.

‘‘The illegal trade in Russian arms is by definition impossible to fully capture, but should be in the region of at least 20 percent of the official figure, judging by the rate of conflict proliferation in central Africa.’’

African states purchased 1.1 billion dollars worth of arms from Russia between 2000 and 2007.

‘‘One important trend, though, is that China's appears to be supplanting Russia as the provider of choice for small arms peddlers,' Simons told IPS from Accra, capital of Ghana.

Komardin acknowledged that Africa remains a region of hostilities. The confrontation has moved to the sphere of mineral deposits and among the leading antagonists are the West and China, he said. Russia has its own natural resources and doesn't have to take part in this ‘‘chase of treasures’’, he argued.

Still, Isaykin said Russia was ready to offer potential customers in Africa ‘‘alternative and flexible’’ forms of payment for military equipment.

This includes the creation of joint ventures in the fishing industry, mining and oil industries, exclusive rights for exploration of natural resources in African countries and deliveries of traditional goods such as diamonds, cotton and coffee.

‘‘These offers give our African customers additional opportunities to acquire Russian-made military equipment,’’ Isaykin added.

The greatest difficulty in such sensitive regions is that the exporter of armaments should follow the criterion of ‘‘avoiding harm’’ and ‘‘that's why we give so much attention to the state politics within the framework of the military-technical cooperation,’’ Komardin claimed.

‘‘Our weaponry and armaments are supplied in a way to avoid upsetting the precarious military and political balance in the regions.’’

Rosoboronexport is also building its relations with the African Union, based on equipping and training of peacemaking forces. Russian helicopters, mechanised infantry combat vehicles and small arms are useful in challenging African conditions.

Since Soviet collapse, Russia's influence has considerably diminished but objectively analysing the situation, Bondarenko said, ‘‘Russia continues to play a significant role in conflict resolution and enforcing peace on the continent,’’ Dmity Bondarenko, deputy director at the African Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told IPS.

As a counterpoint to the position that especially small arms trade fuels the various civil wars in Africa, Bondarenko argued that ‘‘the arms trade is in fact part of many countries. Besides Russia, the majority of Western countries and China and Brazil are involved in it.

‘‘I believe that if Russia, or any other country, stops selling arms to Africa, this will not result in an immediate end to the conflicts as some argue. The parties involved in these endless conflicts in Africa will easily find other sources of purchasing and securing arms.

‘‘I am sure that the arms trade deepens the conflicts further, but it is by no means the primary cause,’’ Bondarenko added.

The conflicts are the outcome of a mixture of Africa society's internal problems - ethnic and religious differences, the struggle for power and weak economy - and the interests of western corporations in Africa, he maintained. There are vivid examples of conflicts centered round diamond and other mineral extraction in western and southern Africa.

The former Soviet Union supplied arms to many African countries on an ideological basis in its standoff with the West, but now Russia is pursuing arms sales as a commercial exercise.

Rosoboronexport's traditional importers of Russian weapons include Algeria, Angola Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ethiopia, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda.

The most popular types of weaponry bought from Russia are Sukhoi and MiG fighters, air defense systems, helicopters, battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.

Russia also maintains traditionally strong positions in the sales of small arms and light weapons, and anti-tank and surface-to-air missile systems.

African countries are attracted to the ‘‘reliability and competitive prices’’ of Russian arms. Russian-made helicopters have traditionally met with high demand in Africa. According to various sources, Russia has supplied over 700 helicopters, including Mi-24/35 Hind attack helicopters, to African countries.

According to Isaykin, ‘‘We are offering a variety of post-sale services to our traditional customers, prioritising repair services of helicopters as well as MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29 and Su-24 combat aircraft, and also pilot training.’’

Russia has been striving in recent years to regain its competitive edge in the global arms trade. It sold arms worth 7.4 billion dollars in 2007 and was due to boost its arms exports to eight billion dollars by the end of 2008.

As a way of growing its arms trade, Russia concluded inter-governmental agreements on military-technical cooperation with the majority of African states and established bilateral intergovernmental and interdepartmental commissions as part of the cooperation.

The target now is to ensure the effectiveness of these mechanisms and to enrich declarations of intent with long-term and medium-term cooperation programmes.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service