Are criminals in Russia sending missiles to Iraq?

By Lucy Komisar
Sacramento Bee, Feb 23, 2003

American officials fear that Belarus is the middleman for Russian weapons sales to Iraq, according to last week’s Newsweek. The magazine noted that Leonid Kozik, a Belarus official who visited Iraq last fall, is on the board of a Russian-Belarussian company that markets weapons from those countries.

Iraq is subject to a U.N. arms embargo. If Iraq is getting Russian weapons through Belarus — either with the approval of Russian officials or via corrupt private firms — it refocuses attention on the destabilizing impact of the criminalization of the Russian state and the uncontrolled expansion of the world’s arms bazaar. Both developments have been largely ignored by Washington, with failure to confront Russian corruption a legacy of the Clinton administration and refusal to deal with weapons sales a result of the longtime political influence of arms-makers.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer, who headed a State Department delegation to Belarus in February 2002, said Washington had evidence that country was involved in arms smuggling and had trained Iraq’s military to work with Russian S-300P missiles. The S-300P is a transportable system designed for site defense.

Siemon Wezeman, a researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), noted that though claims of training have focused on the S-300P, Belarus does however also have the S-300V. He added, Russia is actively promoting the S-300V for export. The S-300V, called SAM 12 by NATO, is the most powerful surface-to-air defense missile on the market, outperforming the American Patriot. It is a cross-country mobile system designed to protect moving troops. Labeled defensive, it can be converted to launch medium-range attack missiles and can bring down stealth aircraft.

AirForces Monthly (London), which covers military aviation, in October 2002 reported that high on Saddam’s shopping list are the S-300P and also S-300V anti-aircraft systems. It said, There have been reports of his agents traveling extensively in Eastern Europe in attempts to buy them from corrupt officials in former Soviet republics. A spokesman for Pifer declined to discuss reports that Iraq was seeking S-300Vs.

The British magazine said Iraq’s purchase of the S-300V missiles would mean a dramatic alteration in the military balance of the Middle East, enhancing the ability of Iraq to shoot down American and British attack aircraft as well as those that presently enforce the U.S.-U.K.-designated no-fly zones. Till now, Iraqis have used less sophisticated missiles against American and British planes that fly over their territory and have not shot any down.

S-300V radar can see stratospheric B1 and B3 aircraft, and its missiles can bring them down within a range of 60 miles. Inspectors on the ground can’t easily detect the system, because it’s mobile, with a complex of missiles, radar, and a command and control center that can be stored in five large trucks.

Set up in five minutes, a firing battery can comprise up to 48 missiles on self-propelled transporter-erector-launcher vehicles, each carrying four missiles in sealed canisters. The engagement radar can guide up to twelve surface-to-air missiles to simultaneously engage up to six different targets.

According to Steven Zaloga, an expert on Russian missile systems with the Teal Group of Fairfax, Va., which provides aerospace and defense market intelligence, Only the Slavic republics — Russia, Belarus, Ukraine — have the S-300V. Here is where governance matters. System parts are produced in various Russian locations, but the main assembly site is the Mariski Machine Factory (MMZ) in the southern republic of Mari El, which the major Russian business newspapers Kommersant and Versiya call a criminal state.

Its former president and strongman, Vyacheslav Kislitsyn served six years for armed robbery, and Versiya said, At one time there were in the administration of Mari El 11 people one way or another connected with crime, from the first deputy premier to the minister of education. Kislitsyn, whose nickname is Acid, took control of the MariEl government in 1993. A chief collaborator is Aslan Batyrov, the official observer of the Chechen organized crime group headed by his brother, Magdan Batyrov.

When he got into power, Kislitsyn forced out federal law enforcement personnel. Interior Ministry (MVD) agents left or were expelled. When a new MVD chief in 2000 tried to institute changes, Kislitsyn ordered the door of his apartment sealed. The newspapers described Kislitsyn as a sadistic thug whose hobby was to practice boxing on clerks delivered to him in handcuffs.

Mocking the corruption of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, Versiya called Mari El’s boss the final product of the policy of Yeltsin reforms. Kislitsyn considered the S-300V a good money-maker. In a 1997 letter to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yakov Urinson, which I obtained, he sought federal assistance to expand production and promised good profits. According to the Moscow paper Soversheno Secretno, a few years ago he had a run-in with federal security service officials who sought to block a sale of weapons to Kuwaiti sheiks. The paper said he fired the MMZ director, changed the local security service chiefs and named his man to handle shipments.

If the S-300Vs are used against U.S. forces, it will be yet another example of blowback from Washington’s failed Russia and arms control policies.

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