Lame ducks are planting mines


MOSCOW. (Military analyst Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti)

The United States has elected its first Afro-American president, Barack Obama. President-elect Obama will have little time to celebrate as he prepares to select his cabinet and further layout the country's policies for the next four years. Meanwhile, the current administration is leaving quite a legacy for Obama to deal with.

One such "legacy" is two-year sanctions imposed last week by the U.S. Department of State on several countries and organizations accused of violating the 2000 Iran Non-Proliferation Act. The act bans cooperation with Tehran on weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions were again applied to Rosoboronexport, Russia's only state arms exporter, which has been charged, without grounds, of such cooperation. American companies, organizations and even individuals are prohibited from dealing with it, its subsidiaries or partners.

In response, Rosoboronexport said the sanctions will not affect its work, because it does no business with American partners. Last Tuesday, President Dmitry Medvedev, speaking at a military technical cooperation commission meeting, said Russia "considers such sanctions unwise." "These are unfair practices, an attempt to push aside other suppliers, but these sanctions will not hurt us, so those who impose them should bear this in mind," he said. Medvedev said Russia's defense order total had "increased markedly" and now stood at more than $30 billion.

Dmitry Medvedev's words have been echoed in the U.S. Congress. Russia is still the world's second largest arms exporter, according to a report prepared by American experts for the Congress. In 2007, according to the report, Moscow sold arms worth $10.4 billion and accounted for 17.4% of all weapons supplied in the world. A similar report published a year ago estimated Russia's supplies at that time at $8.1 billion. The main buyers of Russian weapons are India and China.

Of late, says the report, Russia has been setting its sights on North Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Not so long ago, for the first time since the Cold War, it tried to enter the Latin American market. Moscow now has a large client base there, having concluded arms contracts with Venezuela. Due to their low prices, Russian weapons will be in steady demand in some developing countries for a long time to come, the report says. The U.S., however, is still the leader. In 2007, it concluded arms supply contracts worth $24.8 billion, or almost twice as much as the previous year, when U.S. exports were estimated at $16.7 billion. America exports 41.5% of all legal arms.

American weapons manufacturers are not enthusiastic about competition with the Russian defense sector and are doing everything possible to prevent them from increasing supplies abroad. The sanctions will not harm Rosoboronexport's efforts, however. The main purpose of this demonstrative move, some analysts say, is not so much to complicate life for Russian exporters as to saddle a new administration with new irritants between the White House and the Kremlin, irritants that will be difficult for Obama to remove. It is like anti-personnel mines planted on the path toward better relations between Moscow and Washington.

One such "mine" has been overshadowing Russian-American relations for more than thirty years. It is the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment. Few now remember that it was introduced by the U.S. Congress to punish the Soviet leadership for preventing Jews from reuniting with their relatives in Israel or simply leaving for their "historical homeland." The amendment forbade countries and companies cooperating with American firms to sell high-tech equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is no more. Jews and other ethnicities are free to travel anywhere, settle outside Russia or return to it at will ... but Jackson-Vanik is still there. Neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush Jr. has been able to repeal it. Obama is unlikely to do so either, although he has promised to do just that.

Last summer, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from Poland and the Czech Republic signed an agreement on deploying elements of an American strategic missile shield: ten interceptor missiles at Wicko Morskie between the towns of Ustka and Darlowo on the Baltic coast in Poland and an X-radar in Brdy, not far from Prague. These moves are also casting a shadow on relations between Moscow and Washington, though the U.S. insists that the missiles in Eastern Europe are targeted against rogue nations, among which it includes Iran. Russia is nonetheless convinced that the missiles are intended to reduce the counter-force potential of Russia's strategic forces in the European part of the country.

One more legacy being left by George W. Bush is concerned with the extension of START-1, a strategic arms reduction treaty, which expires in December 2009. For the eight years that the thirty-third U.S. president has been in office, its team has never found time to sit down with their Russian counterparts to decide what to do with the treaty. Was it to be continued, or forgotten like yesterday's dream? And although U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will keep his post under the new president, says that a team of negotiators should be created in the remaining time to discuss START-1, no interest can be seen in the current administration. If and when a new team will do so is anybody's guess, and in the meantime, control over offensive arms is being derailed.

The Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), signed by George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in 2002, is an example. No mechanism currently exists for its fulfillment and verification. A commission that was to have been established for this purpose is not in existence.

So the new Obama administration will have its work cut out for it. Many mines have been planted on the path to cooperation with Russia that must be defused, assuming, of course, that Obama shows interest in defusing them. The departing team, aside from a declared wish to establish a strategic partnership with Moscow, has done practically nothing to promote cooperation; perhaps it only created additional complications for the relief crew.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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