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Russian Arms Deals around the globe
As Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visits India from January 19-21 to finalize the US$1.5 billion sale of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, Russia's arms exporters are feeling increasingly confident in the Asian market for armaments - and with good reason. In 2003, Russia recorded a highly successful year of arms trade, with the bulk of armament shipments going to Asia. Last year, Russia's arms exports exceeded an unprecedented $5 billion, as compared with $4.8 billion in 2002. India relies heavily on Russia for its arms, with Moscow enjoying the rewards of being New Delhi's largest supplier. During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union and India maintained close ties. New Delhi has bought some $33 billion worth of weapons from Moscow since the 1960s and Russian weapons account for nearly three quarters of India's arsenal. For instance, the former Soviet Union and then Russia have built a total of 67 naval vessels for India. The deal for the Admiral Gorshkov has been discussed for nearly a decade. The 45,570 ton vessel was built in 1978 and was known as Baku until the Soviet collapse in 1991. The modernization of the carrier will cost India around $700 million, and the remainder of the billion dollar deal will include up to 30 MiG-29K fighters and six Kamov-31 anti-submarine helicopters. The carrier is due to be supplied to India in 2008, Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Russian Information Agency. The deal comes as a good start of 2004, Ivanov said. However, Ivanov dismissed rumors that Russia was mulling sales of nuclear submarines to India and pledged to stick with non-proliferation commitments when exporting arms to India. Moscow has been proactive to catering to the demands of the Indian navy. In June 2003, Russia delivered to India a Krivak-III class stealth frigate, the INS Talwar (Sword). The two other frigates, INS Tabar and INS Trishul (Trident), were built by Russia as part of the $1 billion deal. The three frigates are designed for anti-submarine warfare and air defense of warship groups. They are equipped with a number of weapons systems, including eight vertical launch cells for the Klub-N anti-ship and anti-submarine cruise missiles as well as the Shtil surface-to-air missile system. The frigates are also designed to carry one heavy-duty helicopter, like the Kamov-28 anti-submarine warfare chopper. India had signed the deal for the purchase of the three 4,000-ton frigates in November 1997, yet the deal has been marred by controversy. In late 2002, the Russians reportedly said that the frigate was ready for delivery. More than 400 personnel were sent to Russia for training on the two ships. On arrival, the Indians reportedly discovered that the frigate's surface-to-air missile system was not performing, and the INS Trishul crew was recalled. Indian naval officials reportedly did not want to accept warships, which they viewed as not combat-ready. Despite some controversies, India and Russia have agreed to extend to 2010 a long-term program of military-technical cooperation signed in 1994 which was initially limited to the year 2000. India imported Russian arms worth $3.5 billion between 1990 and 1996. Russia and India have also agreed to cooperate in the building of a new fighter aircraft and joint production of the Brahmos cruise missile, which is expected to be deployed in 2004. The Brahmos would be based on the Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile, it has a range of 300 kilometers and flies at twice the speed of sound. Another deal signed by New Delhi - this one in 1996 - was the $1.8 billion purchase of up to 50 Sukhoi jets. The first aircraft were delivered in 1997 and the entire lot is expected to be in service by 2005. Meanwhile, a deal signed in 2000 is estimated to be worth $3.3 billion, in which 140 Sukhois would be built under license in India. India is due to start manufacturing Su-30MKIs under license at plants in India as soon as this year. Incidentally, last December India denied media reports it had refused to accept a batch of Russian Sukhoi combat jets because of a high rate of engine failure in earlier batches. Much to the chagrin of India, Moscow simultaneously mulls selling arms to Pakistan. Following a trip to Pakistan in December 2003, Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia's Audit Chamber and former prime minister, announced that Pakistan could import $12 billion worth of Russian weapons within the next 3-4 years. Russia's achievements in arms trade with Asia are not limited to the sub-continent. In terms of arms exports, 2003 was the year of Asia-Pacific for Russia, argued Mikhail Dmitriyev, head of Russia's Federal Committee on foreign military-technical cooperation. China in Russia's sights, too Notably, Moscow and Beijing have just clinched a deal under which China would procure $2 billion worth of Russian military hardware and technologies in 2004. On December 17, Ivanov and his visiting Chinese counterpart, General Cao Gangchuan, signed an agreement on defense ties between Moscow and Beijing in 2004. According to the deal, in 2004 China plans to bring its $2 billion military purchases in Russia closer to the ratio of some 30 percent of serially produced weapons and 70 percent of production licenses and defense technologies. Overall, military ties between China and Russia are a very important factor in ensuring security for the world, Ivanov has maintained. In a highlight of the deal's importance for Moscow, Gangchuan was received by Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the meeting, Putin reportedly noted "serious progress in the military-technical cooperation" between Russia and China. The December deal between Russia and China is understood to indicate the increased importance of the arms trade for both countries. China has been a top buyer of Russian military hardware, and accounts for nearly half of Russia's arms exports. For instance, Beijing bought 73 Sukhoi fighter jets in the past three years alone. Aircraft sales remain a cornerstone of Russia's arms exports. On the other hand, in 1996, Russia and China inked a $2.5 billion deal to manufacture 200 Su-27SKs under license at a plant in Shenyang. China has also been reported to be considering the purchase of Tu-22MZ bombers with Granit cruise missiles. However, on December 18 the Russian Defense Ministry dismissed reports about alleged discussions over sales of Russia's advanced airborne weapons to China. Currently China's portfolio of orders to import Russian weapons is worth $6 billion, said General Yuri Rodionov, Russia's former defense minister. These contracts are due to be completed by 2010, he stated. Russia has also sold to China S-300PMU long-range anti-aircraft missile systems, ship-based S-300F Reef anti-aircraft missile systems, Project 956E Sovremenny (Modern) class destroyers, Project 877EKM and Project 636 conventional submarines. Military-technical cooperation comes as an important factor of the growing bilateral economic ties, simultaneously indicating some convergent geopolitical interests, Professor Aleksei Voskressensky of the Institute of International Relations told Asia Times Online. Moscow and Beijing's respective positions have recently converged on a variety of important international issues. They have warned against United States unilateralism and said that they saw no cause for the war against Iraq. Russia and China have also opposed the planned US national missile defense program. In the wake of the US-led war on Iraq, there has been increased demand for Russian arms in Asia, said Alexander Salitsky, a China expert at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a Moscow-based think tank. On the other hand, China's massive arms procurements provide stimuli for other Asian nations to import weapons, he told Asia Times Online. Vietnam in the arms queue Meanwhile, Moscow still supplies arms to some of its Cold War Era allies in Asia. For instance, last August Russia clinched a deal to export to Vietnam two S300 PMU1 air defense batteries (or 12 launchers) for a reported nearly $300 million. The S300 PMU is an advanced version of the SA-10C Grumble air defense missile. Though Vietnam is now fully integrated into the Southeast Asian community, Hanoi still arms its military with Russian weapons. In March 2001, Putin visited Hanoi and announced a new strategic partnership with Vietnam. The Russian leader said that "Vietnam needs not just to maintain its existing weapons bought from the Soviet Union and Russia but also needs modern weapons". Bilateral military ties are set to go ahead because Hanoi seeks to modernize its half-million strong armed forces, and Vietnam remains an important customer for Russian arms. In 1995, Hanoi bought six Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighter jets for $150 million and in 1997 signed a contract for six more planes and spare parts. In recent years, the Vietnamese military also bought six missile boats from the "1241 project" for some $120 million as well as four radar stations in Russia. The Russians also suggested the Vietnamese purchase more Sukhois and consider buying another jetfighter, the MiG-29, as well as MiG training jets. In December 2003, Moscow and Hanoi reportedly clinched a $120 million deal involving supply of four Su-30MKKs to Vietnam. Looking to build onto its already lucrative customer base, Russian arms exporters are now actively seeking to develop new markets in Asia. When Putin traveled to Malaysia August 4-5 for talks with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, a $900 million deal to supply 18 Sukhoi fighter jets was signed. The Su-30MKM combat aircraft, expected to be delivered in 2006-2007, would be modified with "suitable weaponry" to meet Malaysia's requirements and were hence renamed Su-30MKM (where the last M stands for Malaysia). Su-30MKM is similar to Su-30MKI, supplied to India, but the Malaysian version does not have Israeli-made electronics, reportedly at Kuala Lumpur's request. Malaysia has long been understood to be considering the procurement of Sukhoi aircraft, following the purchase of 18 MiG-29 in mid-1990s, when a barter scheme involving supplies of Malaysian palm oil was used. Russian media outlets have recently speculated that Malaysia was reviewing the procurement of 78 Russian-made T-90S tanks, BTR-3 and BMP armored vehicles. Moscow also has directed its eye further south. Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri traveled to Russia last April, clinching a deal with Russia's state-owned monopoly Rosoboronexport for four Russian Sukhoi fighter planes, two Sukhoi-27s and two Sukhoi-30s, worth about $200 million in total. Following the purchase an initial batch of two long-range Su-27s and two Su-30s for delivery this year, Indonesia reportedly planned to buy at least another 44 planes over the next four years with an estimated $1.4 billion price tag for the 48 jets. In the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Indonesia canceled pre-existing plans to procure Russian-built Sukhoi-30 jet fighters. In 2002, Russia supplied 12 BTR 80-A amphibious armored vehicles to Indonesian armed forces. Russian also sold 10,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and naval Mil-2 helicopters. The Kremlin has long been pledging to prioritize and develop its economic relations with the Asia-Pacific region. However, it remains to be seen whether official pronouncements are going to be accompanied by an actual increase in non-military trade.
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