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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arms Trade May Haunt Russia Later

The news that Russia has renounced a 1995 agreement with the United States that severely restricted its arms sales to Iran appears to be part of a broader policy that has disturbing implications for Russia’s long-term security. It is hard to interpret this announcement in any other way than as a clear indication that Russia intends major new arms sales, in addition to its ongoing program of cooperation with Iran’s nuclear power program.

The siren’s call of arms sales must indeed be hard for the Kremlin to resist. After all, Russia’s economy is weighed down by a vast and under-utilized military-industrial complex whose products are among the most easily exportable commodities Russia has.

And the numbers are truly staggering. In July, Russia sold $100 million worth of military equipment to Libya. This month the country announced an arms deal with China that is reportedly worth $1 billion. When President Vladimir Putin visited India in October, he reportedly signed contracts for tanks, jet fighters and an aircraft carrier worth as much as $3 billion. Experts estimate the potential for sales to Iran runs in the billions as well. It would take a superhuman effort for a country in Russia’s straits not to be enticed by such opportunities.

The Kremlin is right to pay little heed to American protests over possible arms sales to Iran. The United States is by far the world’s leading arms exporter and its blatant hypocrisy in this sphere is nothing short of outrageous. However, there are other compelling reasons why Russia should carefully and publicly examine its arms-sales policies.

Sprinkling the Middle East, the Near East and the Far East with Russian tanks, fighters, ships and other hardware is a recipe for violent instability that could very quickly come back to haunt Russia and create real obstacles to its economic development.

There can be little doubt, for instance, that an escalation of fighting in Afghanistan or another war between India and Pakistan or armed conflict between China and Taiwan would have dire consequences for Russia. Even if Russia is able to avoid being directly drawn into such conflicts (and, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, that assumption is far from certain), they would certainly result in economic disruption and humanitarian crises with which Russia would have to cope.

When Russia announced the China arms deal earlier this month, the Russian general at the press conference stated: "We want to stress that this is bilateral cooperation. It is not aimed at and does not pose a threat to any third country." The question we want answered, though, is whether such sales pose a threat to Russia itself.