For the first time ever, Russia is selling weapons to Bahrain, whose government has been given the cold shoulder by the West for a violent crackdown on anti-government protests, as part of an effort by Moscow to capitalize on the Arab Spring to increase arms sales in the lucrative Middle East market.
An unnamed official in Russia's Defense Ministry told Bloomberg News this week that Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms dealer, that Bahrain is buying tens of millions of dollars of AK103 Kalashnikov rifles, together with grenade launchers and ammunition. It quoted a Bahraini government spokesman as saying the two countries' relations are "getting stronger."
But analysts say it is unlikely Moscow - or Beijing, another potential weapons supplier to the region - will make much headway even as serial human rights violations by governments resisting mass protests and rebellions have forced the West to hold back on many weapons sales to the Middle East.
"Yes, Bahrain is a country that Western countries are less likely to supply, but Bahrain is only a very small recipient of arms in the region. And, when it comes to major weapons, even Bahrain is likely to remain a significant client for the U.S.," said Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
"The major customers [in the Gulf] are the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Saudi Arabia, and I don't see any reason that there will be major change there," he told The Media Line.
Lethal crackdowns across the Middle East by governments like Bahrain's have created a conundrum for the U.S. and other Western governments: On the one hand, they want to ensure political stability; on the other, they don't want to be seen helping regimes engaged in wholesale killings and arrests. Russia has fewer qualms about selling weapons to violators, such as Syria's Bashar Al-Assad and Muamar Al-Qaddafi's Libya.
"Russia has much thicker skin over the perceived violations of human rights. They conduct a realpolitik arms sales policy. Russia is also very anxious to expand its market share in the Middle East because, like bank robbers say: 'That's where the money is'," said Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
Bahrain is a U.S. ally and home to its Navy's Fifth Fleet, but in June Washington put the island kingdom on its list of human rights violators after it put down a rebellion earlier this year at the cost of 30 or more lives and mass arrests.
No one knows the value of the Middle East arms market, because many sales are never reported and ones that are publicized may never go through. But SIPRI estimates that Gulf states like Bahrain alone have agreed to buy some $123 billion in arms over the next decade.
Four United Nations arms embargoes are currently in force in the Middle East and North Africa, targeting Libya and Iran as well as non-government forces in Lebanon and Iraq. A European Union embargo is also in place against Syria. Since January, more than 160 export licenses for Middle East countries have been revoked by Britain, mainly for Libya and Bahrain.
But Rosoboronexport said on Aug. 17 it would maintain arms sales to Syria even after six months of unrest have led to some 2,200 deaths at the hands of security forces. Russia defended its decision on the grounds that the UN had not formally imposed sanctions on the regime. Days earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged Moscow to "get on the right side of history" and stop the sales.
Bahrain aside, however, analysts said Russia or China would find it difficult to capture new markets. Wezeman said the one small opening for them might be for anti-riot gear, which the West would be the most hesitant to sell regimes as long as there is widespread domestic unrest in the region.
The U.S. and Europe have the most important markets - Saudi Arabia and Egypt - sewn up through long-standing alliances and aid programs, while traditional customers for Russian arms like Syria and Libya may switch suppliers in the wake of region change.
Russia and China have sold Egypt "second line equipment," such as trainer aircraft from China and surface-to-air missiles from Russia, but Cairo receives some $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid annually and won't be changing its main supplier so quickly, analysts said.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is closely tied with the West and its weapons systems are entirely based on Western technology. Riyadh depends on U.S. backing to maintain a strategic balance with Iran, its foe across the Gulf. The U.S. has contracts to sell Saudi Arabia advanced weaponry worth some $67 billion over the next decade, making it the biggest arms deal in U.S. history.
Germany agreed in July to sell Saudi Arabia 200 Leopard 2A7+ main battle tanks for $2.85 billion.
Although the West began selling some arms to the regime of Al-Qaddafi after an embargo was lifted in 2004, sales were relatively small. By contrast, Russia's Interfax news agency quoted military sources as saying that Russia had as much as $3.8 billion in confirmed or possible orders to Al-Qaddafi before civil war broke out in February.
With a new rebel-led government in power, the tables may turn in Libya. The country's transitional leaders made clear shortly after they toppled Al-Qaddafi that they would favor the NATO countries that played a decisive role in the civil war on the opposition's side. Their remarks related to future oil contracts, but analysts said they could just as easily apply to arms. Russia is estimated to have lost some $4 billion over the cancelation of contracts with Libya
"The EU and U.S. have taken a strong stand in support of rebels," said Wezeman. "If the country stabilizes they will be in need of new weaponry and its looks as if European countries and the U.S. would be first in line."
Cohen of the Heritage Foundation said Russia's insistence on continuing to sell arms to the Al-Assad regime in Syria could cost it another major customer. The Russians have signed contracts to sell weaponry, but they could argue the force majeure of a months' long rebellion to back out, he said.
"The Syrian regime is past the point of no return and is on its way to slow bloody and painful collapse," Cohen told The Media Line. "They have a gravy train there in place that encourages people to grab the money and deliver the weapons."
- 9/11 Anniversary Subdued in Many Areas
- Al-Qaeda Lost the Battle Long Ago
- 10 Years of 9/11 Wars is Enough
- Why Al Qaeda is Unlikely to Execute Another 9/11
- One Thing Steve Jobs Couldn't Change: Our Mortality
- What I Did (and Didn't Do) on My Summer Vacation
- 9/11 in Retrospect: Bush's Grand Strategy, Reconsidered
- War Costs Greater Than Acknowledged and Continuing to Climb
- China, the United States, and Global Order
- Palestine Goes to the UN
- Europe's Palestine Problem
- Turkey-Israel: What's next?
- Turkey's Akyol, An Apostle Of The Third Way
- Will Oil Drown the Arab Spring?
- Al Qaeda's Challenge
- Libya's 'Precarious' Transition Ahead
- 7 Challenges for Post-Qadhafi Libya
- To the Shores of Tripoli
- Victory in Tripoli. Bleakness Elsewhere
- Egypt: The Unbreakable Muslim Brotherhood
- Commanding Democracy in Egypt
- Bahrain Stumbles on Road to Recovery
- Syria's Al-Assad Gets the Picture as Satire Comes to YouTube
- Kurds Unite Amid Onslaught
- Former Israeli Army Chief Says Talk to Hamas
- For Russia New Middle East will be Tough Arms Market
- Arab Spring Still Fails to Deliver on Human Rights
- The Hype and the Reality of China's Economic Rise
- A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang
- Kim Jong Il's Visit to Russia: Just More Mixed Messages?
- North Korea Accuses South Korea of Plotting to Destroy Its Socialist System
- South Korea Suicide Rate Doubles in 10 Years
- Tokyo's Transformation: How Japan Is Changing
- Credit Suisse Downgrades Forecast for Philippine Economic Growth
- Mexico and the United States: Surgical Strikes in the Drug Wars
- Despite Victory, Argentine Leader Faces Hard Choices
- Chilean 'Model' Is Shaken, but Very Much Alive
- Student Protests May Lead to a Better Chile
- Winds of Change: Uruguay's Sustainable Energy Plans
- Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans
- Balkan Countries Work To Round Up Privately Held Weapons
- Former Iceland Prime Minister On Trial Over Banking Sector Collapse
- Germany's Rail Set to Run on 100 Percent Renewable Energy
- Divvying up South Sudan
- Somalia Seeks More Troops Against Al-Shabaab
- 20,000 Flee Blue Nile Clashes
- Climate of Fear Ahead of Gambia Presidential Elections
- Hungry Kenyan Families Sending Children Out to Beg
- Somali Border Town Feels the Refugee Pressure
- Cholera Soars in Lake Chad Basin Countries
- Somali Pirates Grow More Daring
- Two Million Hit By Floods in Pakistan's Sindh Province
- Global Health: Meaty Concerns
- Global Health: A Seminal Moment?
- Human Trafficking: The Wound That Shames Our Present
- How New Atrocity-Prevention Steps Can Work
- 9/11 Anniversary: Rethink Needed
- 9/11 Anniversary: From Empire to Decline
- 9/11 Anniversary: Scanning Bodies, Stripping Rights?
- Assassination as Foreign Policy
- Eurozone Manufacturing Slowing
- European Union Spending Cuts and Tax Hikes Hurt GDP Growth
- Who's Worse Off: Europe or the United States?
- Germany: German Tiger or European Growth Engine?
- Greece Forecasts Economic Contraction to be Worse than Expected
- Collateral Deals will Have Negative Impact on Greece
- Spain Announces Temporary Tax Cut to Stimulate New House Sales
- Eastern Mediterranean Olive Oil Producers Seek Markets in Far East
- High North: The New Frontier
- The Politics of the London Riots
- Young Westerners -- Deprived or Decadent?
- Explanations and Excuses for English Riots
- Many British Households See Steeper Rise in Debt
- Young Turks Returning Home to Chase Economic Dreams
- The Pain in Spain
- Multiculturalism and Dutch Political Culture
- Macedonia Eyes Its Future in Antiquity
- The Saudi Counterrevolution
- Libya Threatens to Become Terrorist Arms Depot
- Libya: Protection Challenge For The Opposition
- Libya After Gadhafi: Transitioning from Rebellion to Rule
- Why Are Some Progressives Gloating over Libya?
- Egypt's Reluctant Rulers
- Fear and Blogging in the Arab world
- Middle East: The Future of Women
- Middle East: Bread and Dignity
- Middle East: Palestine Towards Statehood
- Israeli - Arab Crisis Approaching
- The Upcoming Palestinian Uprising
- Israeli Settlements Keep Middle East Unsettled
- Syrian Opposition Tries to Unite
- Assad Rejects International Calls to Resign
- Obama Calls for Syrian President Assad to Step Down
- Cranking up Pressure on Syria
- Violence in Iraq Raises Questions About American Withdrawal
- Egypt's Brotherhood Declares War on the Bikini
- Labor Pains in Saudi Arabia as Hiring Deadline Nears
- Gulf Markets Worry About Oil Outlook
- Jordanian King Promises Reform to Skeptical Public
- China and the United States' Debt
- China's New Aircraft Carrier Bolsters Its Regional Reach
- China Outpaces United States in PC Market
- Moody's Downgrades Japan Credit Rating Over Deficit Concerns
- Kim Jong-Il Pushes China for New Nuclear Talks
- North Korea's Rare Pledge to Abandon Nuclear Activities
- Indonesia: Pluralism vs Vigilantism
- South Sudan: Labor Pains
- Somalia: Pro-government Rally Held in Mogadishu
- Kenya: 'Perfect Storm' Brewing Among Urban Poor
- Latin America's Security Dilemma
- A President-for-Life in Argentina? Not Likely
- There's Hope for Mexico and Central America
- Chile: The Fight to Make Education a Guaranteed Right
- Death of Layton Poses Challenge for NDP Interim Leader
- Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy
- Crisis of Confidence: Debt Debate Erodes US Global Standing
- United States Debt Downgrade Won't Have Much Short-Term Effect on Foreign Policy
- The Empathy Deficit
- Stiglitz Upbeat About China and Latin America
- China Trade Surplus Rises
- China Sees Inflation Rate Hit 6.5%
- Latin America Not Immune to U.S. Debt Deal
- Is Japan Now a Good Bet?
- Is Germany the New Safe Haven?
- Islam and Arab Political Change
- Iran Reshaping Persian Gulf Politics
- Diplomatic Pressure on Al-Assad Gaining Momentum
- Arab Nations Join Call For Al Assad To Stop Civilian Attacks
- Bahrain and Kuwait recall Syria envoys
- Clinton Says Syrian Government has Lost Legitimacy
- September Looms Large in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Israel's Growing Wealth Gap Fuels Economic Anger
- Israel and Cyprus Forging Ahead on Gas Bonanza
- Major Israeli Defense Merger Dropped
- Israel Approves 1,600 Settler Homes in East Jerusalem
- Mini UAV Chopper For Urban Warfare Revealed
- Roman-era Sword Uncovered in Ancient Ditch in Jerusalem
- Hamas: Palestinian Authority is Clamping Down On Our Preachers
- Warnings of 'Somalization' And All Out Civil War in Yemen
- Missing Out on Vital Medicines Because of Economic Crisis
- Jordanians Lash Out Against Planned Nuclear Reactor
- Jordanian Mosque Named After Jesus
- Troop Withdrawal Rests on Decision From Iraq
- Somali Forces and African Union Peacekeepers Gradually Expand Control In Mogadishu
- Somali President: Combat Operations Against Al-Shabaab Will Continue
- Al-Shabab Pullout: The Beginning Of The End in Somalia?
- Africa: Tough Choices As Food Prices Continue To Rise
- Nigeria: Jail Threat for Polio Vaccination Refuseniks
- Congo: Implement Anti-Discrimination Law, Urge Indigenous Peoples
- Congo: High-Tech Measures To Curb Illegal Fishing In Congo
- Raw Sewage Kills in Madagascar
- Tanzania: Violence Against Children Rampant
- Maternal Deaths Quadruple In South Africa
- United States and Pakistan Navigate New Tensions in Fraught Relationship
- Pakistan's Forgotten 2005 Quake Victims Still Need Help
- China Announces Sea Trial Of Its First Aircraft Carrier
- Indonesia's Global Significance
- Seoul Blasts Pyongyang For Fabricating Shelling Incident
- North Korea Planned Assassination of South Korean Defense Minister
- Calls For End To Torture and Extrajudicial Killings By Bangladeshi Police
- Muslim Rebels Seek Substate In Philippines
- DOJ Places Former Philippine President On Immigration Watchlist
- Britain Sticks With Austerity Plan
- Cameron Announces Crackdown On Facemasks
- Norway: The Sky Is Weeping
- Norway Attacks a Tragic Result of Failed Immigration Policies
- Norway: Blaming the Muslims
- Norway: Breivik's Real Enemy: Himself
- Brazil Joins Race for Globalized Students
- OAS Is a Basket Case - but a Needed One
Available at Amazon.com:
Copyright 2011, AHN - All Rights Reserved