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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Strives to Be Tops in Guns

Russia's chief arms export agency said Monday it had launched a drive to catch up with the United States and establish Moscow as the world's chief arms salesman by the end of the century.

Russia's increasingly vigorous incursions into markets that have long been the preserve of Western arms makers are causing increasing concern from Washington to Paris and London. Recent deals with Cyprus and Colombia have highlighted the sensitivities.

Dmitry Morozov of the chief Russian arms export agency, Rosvoruzheniye, said Russia had launched a new marketing policy Feb. 1 to penetrate markets, especially in Asia and the Far East region, Latin America and Arab countries.

"The goal has been declared that Russia should catch up with the United States in total arms export by the end of the century," he said.

"We've been working on the plan [region by region] for several months. It's really a first for us."

In the days of the Warsaw Pact, marketing was an alien concept for Moscow. If Poland, Czechoslovakia or East Germany wanted helicopters, tanks or fighter planes, they turned automatically to the Big Brother in the East.

But when the pact collapsed and Eastern Europe looked to future NATO membership, the protected market collapsed.

Rosvoruzheniye head General Alexander Kotyolkin cited Russia's recent sale of military helicopters to Colombia as a great success against the U.S. competition.

"To strike such a deal in the underbelly of our rivals, under such pressure. ... We are very proud of it," he said.

Colombia has agreed to buy about 10 Mi-17 transport helicopters, though U.S. officials have expressed disapproval of the deal. Moscow hopes other deals in the region will follow.

With arms sales come not only vast profits but, in the long run, political influence and prestige.

General Kotyolkin told Russian television's "Zerkalo" program that Russia plans to go ahead with another controversial deal to sell S300 anti-aircraft defense systems to Cyprus -- a system Moscow insists is faster and more deadly than the U.S. Patriot counterpart.

The Cypriot government's decision to buy the missiles has heightened tensions with the Turkish-occupied north of the island.

Moscow insists the S300s do not upset the power balance existing since the 1974 Turkish occupation and senses U.S. pique at a successful Russian sale.

"The contract will be implemented on time. This is the position of the Russian government. This is also the decision of the Cyprus government," Kotyolkin said. Moscow says it will not sell where regional stability would be threatened.

Deputy Director Mikhail Timkin told Itar-Tass that export revenue would be used to begin the re-equipping of the Russian armed forces with "the most modern forms of weaponry."

After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Russian annual arms sales slumped from a peak of about $20 billion to about $2 billion. Interfax said they had risen to $3.4 billion in 1996, while U.S. sales stood at $7.5 billion. Timkin seemed confident the gap could be closed quickly.

"We will push [the competition], and most of all the United States, further and further over the horizon because our equipment is better and more competitive than Western equipment," he said.