Making a Killing by Selling Weapons

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We liberals have been wrongfully slandering the state for its attacks on various businesses. Last week, Moscow stepped in to protect the rights of an upstanding Russian businessman who was arrested overseas. I am speaking of Victor Bout, who is being held in Thailand on suspicion of plotting to sell Russian-made Igla shoulder-fired missiles to Columbian drug cartels. Bout was poised to sell a mere 100 of these missiles to drug barons, who had been planning to use them to shoot down U.S. helicopters foolish enough to fly over their plantations.

To his credit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement on Friday that the country would take all necessary measures to ensure that Bout's rights are not violated.

Bout was arrested on March 6 -- more than a month ago -- but Moscow's offer to help the international arms dealer came last week. In the age of instantaneous communications, such a slow response could only mean that some other method was used to establish a connection with authorities -- money, for example. When the problem of a Russian citizen arrested abroad can be resolved by a phone call, the result is seen right away. But when these issues are decided with cash payments, this is a more complicated process. Negotiations are delicate, and you have to work out how the money will be transferred. All of this takes a lot of time.

And the juiciest part of the Foreign Ministry's statement is that Russia has no plans to press charges against Bout. The power ministries have to account for all Igla missiles in their stock, and state arms exporter Rosoboronexport has a strict monopoly on the the trade of Igla and similar weaponry. This system of tight control was instituted to prevent black market sales to terrorists.

I would recommend that United Russia immediately introduce a bill in the State Duma granting Columbian drug lords the status of freedom fighters struggling against U.S. imperialists. Duma deputies could also stipulate in the bill that cocaine, which is used by the drug dealers to settle their accounts, could be used as a legitimate form of international currency.

Bout has been accused of selling weapons to the Hutu militants who carried out a monstrous genocide campaign, killing more than 1 million people in Rwanda in 1994. He has allegedly sold arms to other bloodthirsty dictators in Sierra Leone and Liberia and equipped the Taliban. After the United Nations listed Bout as one of the world's most dangerous criminals, he decided to settle down in Russia. Apparently, for Bout, even the African regimes were not as safe as Putin's Russia.

The government is engaged in a heroic crusade against all those bad businessmen who break the law. It has imprisoned former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yukos vice president Vasily Aleksanyan. Authorities have also charged with various violations the owners of titanium producer VSMPO-Avisma, Domodedovo Airport operator East Line, electronics retailer Eldorado and the Arbat Prestige perfume chain. They have taken aim at oil companies, retail chains, pharmacies and veterinarians that give anesthesia injections to cats.

As part of its ongoing war against fascism, the Prosecutor General's Office in Samara recently put a halt to retailer Yevroset's sale of cell phone bags displaying swastikas. In Novosibirsk, the Prosecutor General's Office has initiated an investigation into Vyacheslav Verevochkin, an engineer, for restoring World War II German army tanks, embellished with swastikas. Of course, he should have painted French royal lilies on them instead.

In short, the Russian government has it out for everybody -- from billionaire Khodorkovsky to simple country folk who reconstruct World War II battle tanks. But it is not opposed to a Russian businessman offering surface-to-air missiles to Columbian drug lords.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.