Russian Realpolitik: Inside the Arms Trade with Syria

At an arms bazaar outside Moscow, military hardware and geopolitics are on display

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Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR for TIME

The head of the Syrian delegation to the semiannual Russian arms bazaar tries out a new silencer-equipped Kalashnikov assault rifle, the AK-104, at an airfield outside Moscow

“This weapon is perfect for close-quarters combat, house to house,” the Russian arms dealer explains, gently passing a silencer-equipped assault rifle, the AK-104, to the official from Syria, who brings the gun’s sight level with his eye and aims it across pavilion C3 of Russia’s semiannual arms bazaar. Serving as their translator is Colonel Isam Ibrahim As’saadi, the military attaché at the Syrian embassy in Moscow, who chaperones the three officials in town from Damascus for a bit of military shopping. It is a rare opportunity for them. With their country sinking into a civil war, most of the world’s top arms-dealing nations have banned sales to the Syrian government. So the delegates enjoy themselves in Moscow. They spend more than an hour talking to the Kalashnikov salesman, Andrei Vishnyakov, head of marketing for Izhmash, the company that created the AK-47. Then they stroll over to other displays spread out across the giant Zhukovsky airfield near Moscow. They peruse tanks, touch rocket launchers, study cruise missiles and other heavy artillery, all of which stand gleaming in the summer sun like so many sports cars at a dealership. All of it is for sale.

Welcome to Russia’s premier weapons expo, the deceptively titled Forum of Technologies in Machine Building, a military smorgasbord for the dictators of the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin opened in 2010. Delegations from Iran, Zimbabwe, Bahrain, Pakistan and Uganda, among many others, came to the fair last week, but the Syrian presence was the most controversial. Since the 1950s, when it first became a client state of the Soviet Union, Syria has purchased almost all its weapons from Russia, making it a cherished customer. Over the past 16 months, Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have used these weapons to brutally crush a homegrown rebellion, with the death toll now estimated at 14,000, including thousands of women and children. The rest of the Arab world has joined with the West in condemning these massacres, but that has not stopped the flow of Russian arms. Indeed, the Kremlin seems willing to jeopardize its relations with Europe and the U.S. in order to defend Assad and continue to sell him weapons.

In diplomatic terms, there is nothing frustrated Western officials can do to stop it. Russia has a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and it has repeatedly used its veto power to block any discussion of an international arms embargo against Syria. Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said in May that the Russian arms sales to Syria are “reprehensible,” but are not illegal. Diplomatic and moral pressure from the West, like the claim that Russia is aiding the murder of civilians, has not changed many minds in Moscow. “These are the guys we are rooting for,” an official with Russia’s state arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, told TIME on Thursday while showing the Syrian delegates a set of truck-mounted rocket launchers.

(PHOTOS: Inside Syria’s Slow-Motion Civil War)

The Syrians seemed impressed, even climbing into the truck to look around before warmly shaking hands with the Russians and moving on to the other exhibits. Apart from Colonel As’saadi, the military attaché, the Syrian delegates refused to give their names or answer TIME’s questions. The man whom As’saadi identified as the head of the delegation would only say he had flown in from Damascas specifically to attend the fair. “That shows a serious intention to buy,” says Hugh Griffiths, an arms-trafficking expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks the global weapons market. It was, however, impossible to tell what, if anything, the Syrians purchased. Those deals are struck behind closed doors. But if they did end up buying the assault rifles or armored vehicles that they spent hours studying on Thursday, it would cast serious doubt on the official line from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which has said that only defensive weapons, like antiaircraft missiles, are being sold to Syria, none of which could be used against civilians. The “house-to-house” capabilities that Vishnyakov touted at the Kalashnikov exhibit undermined the ministry’s claim.

The organizer of the arms expo, which included a “tank ballet” choreographed by the Bolshoi Theatre, is the Russian weapons and engineering conglomerate Russian Technologies. The company is headed by Sergei Chemezov, an old friend of Putin’s from the KGB. In the 1980s, both men worked as KGB spies in the East German city of Dresden, and after Putin became President in 2000, he gradually transferred Russia’s largest state-owned, machine-building and weapons firms to Chemezov’s corporation. Russian Technologies now controls around 600 companies and thousands of factories, producing everything from cars and planes to military hardware. But the jewel in its crown is Rosoboronexport, the only company in Russia that can legally sell arms abroad. Last year, the company sold more than $11 billion in arms worldwide, making Russia the world’s second largest weapons dealer after the U.S. As of 2011, Russia had about $4 billion in outstanding weapons contracts with Syria, including sales of Buk-M2E surface-to-air missiles, Pansir-S1 rocket complexes and MiG-29 fighter jets.

“This is one of our traditional markets,” says Anatoly Isaykin, the general director of Rosoboronexport, who spoke to TIME at the arms expo. Isaykin, who was also a career KGB officer before becoming Russia’s top arms dealer, says the Syria issue is being blown out of proportion, perhaps as part of a Western conspiracy to blacken his company’s name. “Around these hot spots, efforts are made to present our organization, Rosoboronexport, as some kind of evil genius who is trying to pour kerosene on the fire,” Isaykin says. “I think this is part of the political game.” All of the West’s efforts to stop Russia from selling weapons to Syria, he says, amounts to nothing more than unfair competition. “Of course I mean competition in the broadest sense,” Isaykin says. “It always existed and it will continue to exist. So if Russia loses a market, its competitors have a chance to gain.”

(MORE: Can the U.S. and Russia Agree on How to End Syria’s War?)

Alexander Golts, a military expert in Moscow, says this Manichaean view of the world is what drives Russia to arm Assad. “The root motivation here is ideology, not finances,” Golts says. “It is the ideology of Cold War realpolitik, where you had two sides sitting at the chessboard and moving pieces around. That is how Putin still sees the world.” As for the Syrians, they have lots of reasons to keep buying Russian arms even if they don’t really need them. “They’re desperately trying to keep Russia on board as a partner by channeling more cash to the Russians and building on that relationship,” says Griffiths.

Russia seems eager to play along, as much for the cash as the geopolitical dividends. Throughout the Arab Spring revolts, which many in Moscow saw as a U.S.-led conspiracy to carve up the Middle East, Putin grew increasingly angry over Western meddling in the region. In 2010, when Putin opened the first-ever arms bazaar at the Zhukovsky airfield, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh flew in to attend, and Putin personally showed him around. As they passed the display of a T-90 tank with reporters in tow, Putin turned to Saleh and said, “That’s what you’ve got to buy.” He did not do this with the aim of making a profit, Golts suggests, but to cement Russia’s influence in Yemen. A weapons deal is not a simple cash-and-carry arrangement. It requires the buyer and seller to maintain stable relations, so that the weapons can be installed, serviced and repaired. The seller will often provide ammunition and training for years. “This is a serious bond,” Golts says.

The bond between Russia and Yemen was put at risk by the Arab Spring revolts, which erupted in Yemen a year after Putin’s stroll with Saleh through the arms bazaar in 2010. That revolution quickly turned violent, and Saleh ceded power soon after he was wounded in a rebel rocket attack in June 2011, costing Putin one of his allies — albeit a country that played on U.S. ties and anxieties in the Arabian Peninsula as well. Months later, the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, another client of Russian arms dealers, was killed by rebels who had support from NATO bombing raids. Putin was outraged, especially after images of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse appeared in the media. “Who gave them the right to do this?” he snapped at a press conference in Denmark, referring to NATO’s role in the Libyan revolution. “Why did they have to get involved in this armed conflict? What, is there a shortage of crooked regimes in the world? Are we going to interfere in every domestic conflict? … You have to let people resolve their own problems.”

After the war in Libya, Russia drew a line. It began blocking all U.N. efforts to force Assad down the same road as Gaddafi and Saleh, and as foreign countries began arming rebels in Syria, Russia continued supplying Assad. “None of these events will influence our relationships with our traditional markets in any way,” says Rosoboronexport’s Isaykin. Judging by the crowd at the arms bazaar — packed with military men from Asia, Africa and the Middle East — Russia still has plenty of loyal customers around the world. As Russia’s tanks performed their ballet in a mock battlefield on Thursday, the foreign delegates looked on, happy patrons of the art of war. That evening, after two long days of shopping, the Syrian delegates walked toward the parking lot with bags full of pamphlets and promotional videos for Russian military hardware. No doubt they were imagining how useful it could be back home.

MORE: Military Intervention Still Unlikely After Syria Shoots Down Turkish Jet

37 comments
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Pavel Kalinin
Pavel Kalinin

Cash bags from the U. S. tell to all people that the U. S. brings a democracy to the backward countries. In fact, they do not care about these countries (except for one country, located in the Middle East). The true goal —  political domination and then self-serving use of natural resources. And if the flow of drugs from Afghanistan goes to Russia and Europe then it is also good for the U. S. . U. S. (and the Anglo-Saxons in general) deliberately arrange the problems in the world as it is profitable for them. They implement the approach of "divide and conquer." In democratic development of the barbarians they are not interested.

But how to carry out such a selfish policy? For this exist a powerful tool — the media. They are proclaimed as free and independent. But in reality it is a tool to manipulate the minds of citizens of the United States and Europe. The Western media are biased in those matters where there is external interests of government. Nevertheless, the illusion of objectivity must exist. We are dealing with the "Matrix" of the modern world.

—————————————

< Original text in russian language >

Денежные мешки из США внушают всем, что США несёт демократию в отстающие страны. На самом деле им наплевать на эти страны (кроме одной страны, находящейся на ближнем востоке). Истинная цель — корыстное использование природных ресурсов. А если поток наркотиков из Афганистана пойдёт в Россию и Европу, то это тоже хорошо. США (и англосаксы в целом) сознательно устраивают проблемы во всём мире, так как это им выгодно. Они реализуют подход „разделяй и властвуй”. Демократическое развитие варваров их не интересует.

Однако как же проводить столь эгоистичную политику? Для этого есть мощный инструмент — СМИ. Они провозглашаются, как свободные, независимые. Но в реальности — это инструмент манипулирования умами граждан США, Европы. Западные СМИ необъективны в тех вопросах, где есть внешние интересы правительств. Тем не менее иллюзия объективности должна быть. Мы имеем дело с „Матрицей” современного мира.

Сергей
Сергей

omegafrontier

Want to get acquainted with these "protesters? Only this Western fascist like YOU might call militant Protestants. I hope you ever meet with such opposition.

Kovan
Kovan

It is really amusing! :-) If we look through comments here and their ratings (I mean flag 'Like') we'll discover very interesting thing...Either the main readers of "Time" is Russians or the western people have a common sense as well, despite the global propaganda against a truthful world situation ;-)

popsiq
popsiq

What a load of codswallop.  Where's the equal time coverage of the 'smorgasbord' of weapons for democratic security forces that was held in Paris this month?

Where's the coverage of 'unreprehensible' arms sales into Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that are being used to arm the 'sponsored' spring upisings and stifle the 'unwanted' disturbances?

Russian arms sales to Syria are no more reprehensible than arming the Syrian rebellion for free. It takes two sides to make a firefight, and Syria is a firefight. Outside forces and interests have fomented the 'Syrian spring". And had those forces and interest had their way, the UN would have sanctioned more of the kind of  'humanitarian bombing' that saw Libya turned into a liberated basket case. That isstill, now more than ever, the plan.

None of the springs bode well for the participants. There will be no 'sunny uplands' unless they're 'smart' enough to install a government that represents western interests more than the nation. The best they can hope for is to be allowed to 'get along' without being a threat to US hegemony.

Fomenting Arab in fighting - the great Sunni-Shia potential bloodbath that has never yet really been   is in the best interests of somebody. Just follow the noise and the money.

You won't be heading east.

Marcos Canbeiro
Marcos Canbeiro

Russia govm. main reason to support Assad is not what this article points, it is a much higher one, it is the most basical motivation of human beings : SURVIVAL. Russia govm., and also China and Iran govms., fear 'the Arab Spring way of polical change' knock their doors, go inside them, against themselves. For this reason, they are strong enemies of all Arab Springs and they want all of them fail, and, if they eventually win, that the win come at the higher cost possible for the people, to discourage their own people to follow the same path. 

This not only explains their decisions so far foward Syrian revolution. This also makes very clear that they won't change course, at least until this course proves productive in preventing their people to rise.

Kovan
Kovan

The main mistakeof the West is an opinion that there is almost the same highly explosive and tense situation in Russia which supposedly caused the events we are observing in Arabic countries. But each sensible person is able to recognize who are growing up behind rebels' backs in each of them. These are the same faces that are possessed by a thirst for power and riches. Don't be daunted by the fact that they are acting under the guise of “Democracy”. Their real aims have not changed for centuries.

Only their methods have changed. Fortunately Russian people have immunity to “colour revolutions” due to we were vaccinated against it by radical liberals more than 20 years ago. Moreover articles like this one, promote to strengthen this immunity. The West grossly exaggerates the meaning of “White ribbon” movement in Russia. If you take a look at q-ty of meetings participants you will see that their q-ty is negligibly small in comparison with population. Actually we can speak abt less than 1% of disaffected. Calculate yourself. Can the 50 thousand of participants (ok, if even we take into account 150 thousands as opposition claims) in 14 million Moscow, be by actual q-ty of people which reflect the real situation in Russian society? It would be stupidly to think that Putin prevent Russians from getting a truthful info re world situation and inside Russia. In the beginning of this year 58% of Russians have access to the internet and 38% of them use it daily. By the way, the Russian internet is not censored. Would you like to get proofs? Look over comments here and you will discover comments from Russian, even in Russian as from Сергей Козырев for example.

El Roz
El Roz

When US troops attacked and killed civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq over and over and over and over....it was all for "good cause".   When Syrian government has to defend itself against radicals, terrorists, and international mercenaries aided by all sort of dirty thugs from Washington, London, Libya, and Sunni Gulf states, suddenly it becomes wrong.  USA and NATO  reputation and credibility is very tarnished.

El Roz
El Roz

When bloody vandals are backed by NATO,

then they become pro-democracy:  Syria.  It is a shame

than Washington and its toadies in London are trying to pervert

perceptions of the international community over Syria. Qatar and S.

Arabia are just as guilty, however.  Syrian rebels scream "Christians go

home. Shi'a go to the grave"   that is NOT material for constructing

democracy - but NATO doesn't give a sh*t, it only has interests, not

morals. NATO doesn't care about democracy - Georgia, S. Arabia, Kosovo - are the most recent and glaring examples. It only has geopolitical ambitions driven by the chief criminal -USA and its puppets.  Well, Washington is aligning with Sunni radicals once again?! The lesson hasn't been learned?

Ali Arif
Ali Arif like.author.displayName 1 Like

Stupid Muslims killing each other and arms dealers are profiteering -  good economics 

Rex Reddy
Rex Reddy

Syria is one of those "lesser of two evils" situations

Assad Has dabbled in supporting terrorism before.

But this time the Terrorists are after him.

If he fails, Syria may fall into the hands of true Islamists.

The change may be even worse for Syria and the world.

El Roz
El Roz

USA and NATO don't care - just like in Libya. They are far away, but the people of Syria will have to sufferif these horrible thugs with arms take over. Well, CNN and BBC will bullsh@t us with "democracy" or simply not cover all the problems that we have helped cause. 

Arkady Konovalov
Arkady Konovalov

UPDATE! "... Loyal to President Bashar Assad forces use these weapons for the brutal suppression of the uprising Saudi, Libyan and Qatari MERCENARIES SPONSORED American intelligence agencies in the country."

aarky
aarky

Please help Sergey above translate so we can understand what he said.

Sidney
Sidney

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Heterotic
Heterotic

Muslims and atheists, a match made in Sharia heaven. Im s h itta.

Heterotic
Heterotic

Muslims and athiests, what a combination. Im shitta.

James Livingston
James Livingston

Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be included in negotiations. Unfortunately the more the war goes on the more the Saudis will benefit economically.  The Saudi family have multi billion dollar investments in the US arms industry as well as supplying the Sunni rebels with most of their weapons. A win/win for the dodgy house of Saud.

aarky
aarky

Chutzpah is a great word to describe the shameless audacity and hypocrisy of the US towards Syria. The US is constantly involved in wars that have killed hundreds of thousands. Think of the debacle in Iraq and the free weaponry to Israel. The Russians have already left their message with a bang. Debka of Israel reported that it was a Rusian SA-22 Pantsir anti-aircraft  missile, recently arrived from Russia, that shot down the Turkish jet. The US long ago lost it's moral authority to alert the world about dangers of dictators. 

Sharlene
Sharlene

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Ageless_Match_C0M
Ageless_Match_C0M

 

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William Lee Barnes
William Lee Barnes

Listen up, Dr. Chutzpah. We are not talking about the past. We are talking about the assassination of thousands of innocents by a very, very screwed up dictatorship NOW! My opinion is for you to go there and help this dictator defend his Godless intentions. Otherwise, shut up if you can't say anything constructive like : Kick Russia OUT of the U.N. and get rid of the unholy dictator.

aarky
aarky

Mr Barnes: Please confess! You have to be a troll from AIPAC? Along with insults you forgot to shout ANTI-SEMITIC! The only reason State is involved in this tug of war has nothing to do with altruism and the hope of stopping the bloodshed. It's all about power politics at the world level and doing the bidding of the Israeli's. The Israelis do have realists at the higher level and they are smart enough to know the dangers from the Assad regime but they should be fearful of what could come if the Assad regime is overthrown.  The top level intell and military in Israel have finally forced the political side to stop screeching about the non-existent dangers from Iranian Nukes and that caused the price of crude oil and gas to drop dramatically in the last couple months.The Israel firsters at State and in Congress still havn't received the new talking points from the Israeli Ambassador so they are still screeching, "The Sky is Falling".

Adnan Al-Baroudi
Adnan Al-Baroudi

We Syrians did not take permission from anyone to start a revolution. It's been a life long dream for many of us and we found the opportuinity to make the change today.

Russia always stood on the wrong side of history, and it's a sad fact that it never learns.

boonteetan
boonteetan

Russia's adamant refusal to replace current Syrian government might have a strong economic flavor. Moscow fears that a new western-inclined leader would support the construction of gigantic gas pipeline from Saudi to Europe via Syria, thus diminishing Russian future bargaining power.   (vzc1943)

El Roz
El Roz

 weak and unsubstantiated....

James Livingston
James Livingston

 Actually, both Russia and China are pushing for a transition government that represents all major players which makes sense to me. The last thing needed is another Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

Do you have eyes?  Nearly 15,000 people dead in Syria and you're placing your bet on Russia and China.  Isn't it obvious that they want the protesters dead and Assad to stays?  And actually, no they are not pushing for any transition.  The strategy is to wait out until Assad force kills enough protesters and weaken them to the point where they have no choice but to sue for peace.

Kovan
Kovan

Translation of reply posted by Сергей Козырев:

Do you have eyes yourself? Or your eyes became very fat? What hell you have done in countries where US army was, did you count up civil death tolls from your democratic bombardments? Why do you try to get into each watercloset?

Who has asked you abt that? People themselves are able to make out and build up what suit them in their countries but not what you offer to please to your ambitions. Have you already full up with a fight in Afghanistan? Drugs production grew up in ten times during your presence there, but why you don’t take upon oneself the responsibility for that? If you are occupying country you should to be responsible to all World for their state. When USSR fought there you, like bad boys, supplied Talibs with “Stingers” and other weapons instead of stop these disgraces and now you need Syria urgently? So you are “spawning” (in Russian it means “raise a stink/dust”, without any reasons, pettifog) having involved all your grafted massmedia.

El Roz
El Roz

 NATO keeps sending messages to the rebels - Assad must go, overthrow the

regime, not current Syrian government. You cannot work with these types

in Washington and London - they are faking their willingness to settle

Syria while helping the rebels and radicals turn the country into

chaos.  Ugly and immoral. 

Kovan
Kovan

 An attempt to reply (test)

Del'mar
Del'mar

omegafrontier

Killed ... Tell me, which side were dead? They died at the hands of terrorists. And you still dare to call those bastards, "opposition". And you are arming them! You are murderers, you kill people around the world by the "democratic" carpet bombing.

Сергей Козырев
Сергей Козырев

У тебя самого то есть глаза? Или заплыли жиром? Вы что натворили по странам где побывала армия США и подсчитали ли погибших людей от ваших демократических бомбардировок? Что вы лезете в каждый клозет? Кто вас туда звал? Люди в своих странах сами без вас разберутся и построят то что их устраивает, а не то что предлагаете вы в угоду своих амбиций. Вы уже навоевались в Афганистане? При вашем присутствии там стали наркотики производится в десятки раз больше, что же вы за это не несете ответственность? Раз оккупировали страну, значит отвечайте перед всем миром за ее состояние. Когда СССР там воевали, вы как плохие мальчики поставляли талибам "стингеры" и прочее оружие, что же вы не прекратили эти безобразия, а теперь вам срочно понадобилась Сирия? Вот вы и "мечете икру", включив все свои купленные СМИ.

Freedom
Freedom

A regime sniper shoots a young man dead in Zamalka, a suburb of

Damascus.  The body of Abdul Hadi Al-Halabi, the Martyr, is washed  and

shrouded by his family members.  The funeral procession marches thru

Zamalka streets toward the cemetery where Halabi is supposed to be laid

to rest.   Pall-bearer and community members chant anti-regime and

anti-Assad slogans while waving the revolution flags.  A bomb explodes.

 85 people will accompany Halabi to his final resting place.  150 people

are severely injured.   This is happening daily in Syria.  Assad is

still hoping to scare people off the streets.  His propagandists will

blame "terrorists" whom miraculously are only killing demonstrators and

opposition figures.  He will blame the US, Israel, the Gulf states and

Klingons.  No one believes him in Syria.  The only exception is that he

still has numerous believers in the US. Strange?  This video will be removed

soon, watch it if you still defend Assad.  We Syrians wish it on no one

and we will be free from Assad tyranny sooner or later.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

aarky
aarky

They must have taken their cues from US drone attacks against funerals in Pakistan.

El Roz
El Roz

 or when US troops killed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan dozens and dozens of times year after year - it was all for good cause!  NATO reputation is very tarnished...their moral standing is zero.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

All true .. so what is left to do? Well, getting read of the snake's head would do it