U.S. Sanctions on Russian Arms Because of Venezuelan Arms Deal, Say Russians

Russia's Defense Ministry said new U.S. sanctions against two Russian state-owned companies were linked to their recent defense contracts with Venezuela.

Caracas Venezuela, August 10, 2006—Russia’s Defense Ministry said new U.S. sanctions against two Russian state-owned companies were linked to their recent defense contracts with Venezuela.

The U.S. State Department announced last Friday that Russian state arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport and jet maker Sukhoi were subject to sanctions for providing Iran with equipment that could be used to develop missile systems or weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctions, which will remain in place for at least two years, were also imposed on two Indian companies, a Cuban entity, and two North Korean firms. Under the 2000 Iran Non-proliferation Act, U.S. firms are prevented from working with affected companies.

Nine days earlier, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Russia where he met with his Russian counterpart, Vladmir Putin, and sealed a billion dollar defense contract.

“Obviously, this decision is a reaction to recent successes of our companies in concluding beneficial contracts on arms supplies to Venezuela,” Russian news agencies quoted a ministry official as saying.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated Russian companies act in strict compliance with the rules of international law, including Russia’s obligations on nuclear nonproliferation. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called the move politics, “these sanctions don’t have the slightest relation to non-proliferation,” Interfax reported.

In July, Russia negotiated contracts to supply Venezuela with 24 Su-30 fighter jets and 30 military helicopters. Later that same month, Venezuelan President Chavez spent three days in Russia meeting with officials, and touring the country’s energy and defense industries. Less than two weeks after President Chavez departed Moscow the sanctions were announced in Washington.

“The sanctions should be seen as nothing other than an unfriendly act against the Russian state and an attempt to destabilize its defense co-operation with foreign countries… Such deliveries of arms and military technology to Iran are made by many foreign companies, including by partner countries of the United States in NATO,” Rosoboronexport stated.

Nikolai Zlobin, Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, spoke to RFE/RL’s Russian Service regarding the sanctions, saying, “Venezuela plays a role – the Russian-Venezuelan military contracts have alarmed the Americans… It is a fact that possible future Russian-Venezuelan military cooperation — not so much what is happening now, but what could happen in the future — played a role.”

Reuters has reported that Russia signed a contract last year to sell Tehran ground-to-air missile systems, and to modernize Iran’s Russian fighters and military helicopters. However, last week, Sukhoi’s chairman Alexander Klementiev told the Russian radio station, Moscow Echo, that his company had delivered nothing to Iran for at least six years.