Monday, January 17, 2005


Pavel K. Baev at EDM, writing about the background to Moscow's missile deal with Syria:
All these technicalities cannot make the deal acceptable for Israel, where the memories of unpunished Iraqi Scud attacks in 1991 are still quite fresh. Quite possibly, the Kremlin wanted to keep the deal secret until Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad visits Moscow in late January -- and then present it as a fait accompli. Putin may think that he runs a leak-proof administration, but the corruption in his "inner circle" has acquired Middle Eastern proportions, and a secret of such an explosive nature has high selling value (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 14). The Russian Foreign Ministry must now try to downplay the scandal as Israeli overreaction on a media hoax -- but this face-saving PR exercise conveniently ignores the fact that Ariel Sharon had acted before Haaretz broke the news.

Preparing for a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin certainly does not need this extra irritant; Russia 's arms exports to Iran generate a quite sufficient amount of problems. Moscow could have also taken a clue from the bitter quarrel with Turkey provoked by its plan to sell the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Cyprus . This lack of learning may appear puzzling, but the missile deal with Syria was probably driven by larger ambitions than just the desire to compensate for the lost profits from arms exports to Southeast Asia, where several contracts (estimated at $1.5 billion) were cancelled because of the tsunami disaster (Nezavisimaya gazeta, January 14). Putin feels that his international profile is shrinking despite Russia 's energy clout, and he wants to reassert the traditional Soviet role in the Middle East based on massive arms deliveries. Moscow is aware that the EU -- despite objections from Washington -- is preparing to lift its arms embargo against China , so the Syrian connection may look promising, at least until the international fallout is quantified.

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