Russian Weapons Experts
Confirm Baghdad
Rearmament Connection
By Con Coughlin
Foreign Editor
The London Telegraph
From Hilary A. Thomas <>
Fresh evidence has emerged about Russia's illicit arms trade with Iraq following last week's disclosure in The Telegraph that Moscow has signed deals worth more than £100 million with President Saddam Hussein to reinforce his air defences.
Indignant Russian foreign ministry officials condemned our report as "a provocation", which smacked of "cold war disinformation devices", and said Moscow "fully and meticulously" observed United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
They were particularly incensed that Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian Prime Minister, had been identified as a key figure in the deals.
But a very different picture of Moscow's military ties with Iraq has emerged from Russian military experts, who have confirmed that most Russian arms firms enjoy a close and lucrative relationship with Baghdad.
Although Russia officially stopped all arms exports to Iraq on September 1, 1990, in compliance with UN sanctions applied in retaliation for Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, Iraq's squadrons of MiG 23, 25 and 29 jet fighters remain in service, while its radar and anti-aircraft missile launchers are still operational.
None of this equipment - which forms the bulk of Iraq's air-defence capability - would be serviceable without a regular supply of spare parts from Russian manufacturers, and constant maintenance by Russian technicians.
As Pavel Felgengauer, a respected Russian military affairs commentator, wrote last week, without support from his country the Iraqi armed forces would resemble those of countries such as Congo or Somalia - "with no trousers, and armed only with Kalashnikovs".
Mr Felgengauer and his colleagues were unable to comment specifically on the deals revealed in The Telegraph, under which the Russians have agreed to upgrade and overhaul Baghdad's MiG fighters and restore Iraqi air defences to combat readiness. But they were able to shed light on the complex "third party" business arrangements which enable the Russians to circumvent UN sanctions and do business with Iraq.
According to sources in the Russian defence industry, the transactions are handled by banks and front companies in Turkey, Jordan and the Balkans. One of the more favoured conduits is Bulgaria, where Russian dealers have set up a number of companies.
Businessmen from Russia also supply Iraq with arms that originate from other ex-Soviet republics or former Warsaw Pact countries which have close ties with Moscow.
As one Russian arms specialist said last week: "Yes, our people have been on business trips from Moscow to Baghdad, to repair and put in working order Iraqi hardware, including the latest equipment from Russia. And what do you expect? The Russian government pays us nothing, so we have to go to Baghdad just to survive."
In fact, contacts between high-level military delegations from Russia and Iraq have been taking place at locations in countries such as Bulgaria and Turkey since the mid-Nineties, when the Russians first started to support the idea of relaxing UN sanctions against Baghdad.
As a consequence of one deal, the Iraqis received large quantities of helicopter spares as well as several Mi-24 helicopters. The new aircraft were sent in boxes and assembled in Iraq, probably by Russian technicians.
Iraq's interest in doing business with Russia is not only confined to conventional weapons, however. Ahmed Murtada Ahmed Khalil, Iraq's transport and communications minister, who negotiated the deals disclosed last week in The Telegraph, served from 1987 to 1990 as director of the Technical Research Centre at the secret Salman Pak facility on the outskirts of Baghdad.
In other words, Dr Murtada is a former head of Iraq's biological weapons programme, and knows only too well how Moscow can help Baghdad to rebuild its chemical and biological weapons arsenal.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999. Terms & Conditions of reading. Commercial information.