European countries are selling arms to Russia while condemning it over Ukraine

Michael Birnbaum, The Washinton Post

MOSCOW — The French are sending Russia advanced helicopter carriers. Germans built it a high-tech military training facility. Italians have been shipping armored vehicles.

Deep into a crisis in which Russia's military deployed onUkrainian soil, European nations are struggling to balance economicconsiderations with political ones. Now France is poised this monthto invite 400 Russian sailors to train on a massive new ship that aRussian admiral once said would have enabled his nation to beatneighboring Georgia in its 2008 war in "40 minutes instead of 26hours."

French leaders have refused to cancel the $1.7 billion sale of twoMistral-class helicopter carriers - capable of transporting 16attack helicopters, dozens of tanks and 700 soldiers - despiteRussia's recent aggression,includingits annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March. The planshave drawn condemnation from allies including the United States andNATO, which say that supplying military equipment to Russia withone hand while condemning its military actions with the other isclearly contradictory.

The Mistral deal and other arms shipments lay bare the difficultyof applying pressure on Russia, even at a time when tensionsbetween the West and Russia are at their worst since the ColdWar.

European leaders have sought to protect their defense industrieseven as they have sanctioned Russian officials over the Crimeaannexation.

"We are executing the contract in full legal compliance becausewe're not at that level of sanctions," French President FrançoisHollande told reporters this month. If sanctions escalate, he said, France may hold back on sendingthe ships.

Obama said this month: "I have expressed some concerns, and I don'tthink I am alone.... I think it would have been preferable to pressthe pause button."

Still, no nation has stepped forward with money to help Franceavoid shouldering the financial burden of any cancellation alone.That, too, demonstrates the difficulty of achieving a unifiedWestern response to Russia's actions in Ukraine, analystssaid.

Just a few years ago, Russia's military almost never boughtequipment made outside the Soviet bloc. Even today, Russia remainsa major arms exporter. But after Russia's brief war with neighboring Georgia in 2008, topleaders rethought their old habits. Although Russia ultimatelyprevailed in that conflict, its soldiers proved ill-equipped anddisorganized, struggling with Soviet-era equipment that failed themon numerous occasions. So leaders turned to the West to boost theircapabilities.

"At the highest level they found that the Russian equipment didn'tlive up to their expectations anymore," said Pieter Wezeman, asenior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace ResearchInstitute (SIPRI), which tracks arms transfers. The Russians began"buying not just complete weapons systems but also technology," hesaid.

They found a continent that was eager to oblige. The 2008 globalfinancial crisis and Europe's subsequent economic struggles madepolicymakers desperate for any chance to boost jobs andexports.

Although precise figures are shrouded in secrecy and difficult tocompile, France was the most enthusiastic trading partner, analystssay. Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic have also been involvedin selling equipment to Russia in recent years, according to datacompiled by SIPRI. The sales involve aircraft, armored vehicles andcommunications supplies.

French deliveries of arms and defense equipment to Russia tripledin value between 2009 and 2010, then kept increasing, according toFrench parliamentary reports, and the 2011 Mistral deal - whichmore than 1,000 jobs depend on - was an order of magnitudelarger.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this month that if Francefollows through on the ships, more Russian orders may soon come, apotentially attractive proposition for Hollande, who has presidedover a stagnant economy.

"If everything goes as we agreed, we will not rule out thepossibility of further orders, and not necessarily in navalshipbuilding. They may concern other sectors as well," Putin toldFrench journalists ahead of a trip to Normandy this month."Overall, our relations in this area are developing well, and wewould like to continue strengthening them - in aviation,shipbuilding and other sectors."

The two Mistral-class carriers give broad new capabilities to theRussian navy, analysts said. The first ship, the Vladivostok, willbe delivered to Russia in the fall.

"The Mistral brings a new concept, a new philosophy of maritimewar,'' said Alexander Golts, a leading Russian defenseexpert.

Russia has also purchased 60 armored personnel vehicles from Italy,according to SIPRI figures, along with new electronics and radiosystems to upgrade military aircraft.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Russian President VladimirPutin. (Sergei Chirikov/European Pressphoto Agency)

A $163 million high-tech military training facility built in Russiaby the German defense contractor Rheinmetall was near completionwhen German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel halted work on it inlate March, citing the situation in Crimea. Whether work willresume remains unclear.

The exports from Europe have been critical to the Russianmilitary's efforts to modernize, said Igor Sutyagin, a Russianmilitary expert at the London-based Royal United ServicesInstitute.

"It's rather difficult to build any modern system without usingWestern parts," Sutyagin said. Russia is interested in Westernelectronics, computing and command-and-control systems, he said."Russian electronics are still lagging behind the West, and theyare very, very important."

He added that the communications systems of the Mistral may beparticularly useful to Russia, since they can be studied andrecreated elsewhere.

In France, where the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy signedoff on the deal in 2011, Hollande is going through with the salewithout major domestic opposition.

"The issue is monetary, first and foremost. But it's also one ofreputation," said Etienne de Durand, the director of securitystudies at the French Institute of International Relations. "It'skind of difficult when you're in the business of selling arms tocancel any kind of sale."

Michael Birnbaum, The Washington Post

Источник: https://en.censor.net.ua/r290441