- 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
- 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
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