Russia ratchets up US tensions with arms sales to Iran and Venezuela

Russia defied the United States yesterday by announcing plans to sell military hardware to Iran and Venezuela.

The head of the state arms exporter said that he was negotiating to sell antiaircraft systems to Iran despite American objections. Russia has already delivered 29 Tor-M1 missile systems under a $700 million (£386 million) deal with Iran in 2005.

“Contacts between our countries are continuing and we do not see any reason to suspend them,” Anatoli Isaikin, the general director of Rosoboronexport, told the RIA-Novosti news agency at an arms fair in South Africa.

Reports have circulated for some time that the Kremlin is preparing to sell its S300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran, offering greater protection against a possible US or Israeli attack on the Islamic republic’s nuclear facilities. The missiles have a range of more than 90 miles (150km).

Sergei Chemezov, the head of the state-owned Russian Technologies, also disclosed that Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chávez, wanted to buy antiaircraft systems, armoured personnel carriers, and SU35 fighter jets when they come into production in 2010.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Igor Sechin, one of the closest allies of Mr Putin, the Prime Minister, visited Venezuela and Cuba this week. Kommersant, the financial newspaper, said that Russia was forming “alliance relations” with the two antiAmerican regimes as a response to US involvement in former Soviet republics.

The Russian moves mark a serious deterioration in relations between Washington and Moscow. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, threated to block Russia’s membership of key international organisations. She told the Kremlin that its “authoritarian policies” could prevent it from joining the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which coordinates economic policies among industrialised countries. In an outspoken speech to the German Marshall Fund, an institution promoting greater cooperation between America and Europe, Dr Rice said: “The picture emerging is of a Russia increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad.

“Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organisation is now in question. And so too is its attempt to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

She added: “Russia’s international standing is worse now than at any time since 1991.”

The WTO is due to meet in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Russia’s bid to join the global trade body, a process that began in 1993, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Dr Rice said that Russia’s actions in Georgia fitted into a “worsening pattern of behaviour”, which included its “intimidation of its sovereign neighbours, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon, its threat to target peaceful nations with nuclear weapons, its arms sales to states and groups that threaten international security and its persecution – and worse – of Russian journalists and dissidents.”

She repeated the US commitment to put forward a $1 billion economic support package for Georgia. The European Union has already pledged $500 million.

At the heart of the dispute between the two former Cold War adversaries is Moscow’s insistence that America and its Nato allies are interfering in Russia’s “near abroad” and threatening its interests. The Kremlin is furious about plans to site an antimissile shield in Eastern Europe. The interceptors are designed to stop ballistic missile attacks from Iran but Russia believes the system in Poland and the Czech Republic is aimed at weakening its military capability.

Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, said that it was logical to conclude a lucrative contract with Iran “in the current situation, when the US and the West in general are stubbornly gearing toward a confrontation with Russia”.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4781027.ece