Bust-up over Military Sales to Iraq

Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned his back pointedly on appeals from his neighbor, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, to intercede on his behalf in the bust-up with Washington over his surreptitious arms sales to Saddam Hussein and sundry other parties covered by President Bush’s “axis of evil” coinage.

The multifarious Belarus arms traffic was first exposed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly last July 20, 2001 (Issue No. 22):

A list obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly of Lukashenko’s deals in the first half of the year shows that the Belarus leader is as avid an arms merchant as he is an ice hockey player. Lukashenko has scored deals carrying a total price tag estimated at more than $600 million since January…

So far this year, his representatives have sold radar and advanced communications systems to the Iraqi air force high command, and missile guidance systems to the Iranians.

They sold large quantities of 120 mm mortars, Katyushas 107 mm, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, mines and ammunition to the Palestinians, and automatic rifles, machine guns, mortars, mines and big amounts of ammunition to the Albanian Liberation Army, fighting in the Balkans…

Lukashenko has put together a network of arms merchants to offer a full-service package that includes advance negotiation, supply of samples and live weapons demonstrations to clients.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly can disclose that the man who organizes this network for Lukashenko is Libo Rojs, former deputy defense minister of Croatia. His very plush offices in the center of Zagreb serve as Lukashenko’s arms trading center.

… Lukashenko has the backing of Russian president Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence service, FSB, which uses Lukashenko’s services for two purposes – covering Russia’s fingerprints on sensitive arms deals and selling sophisticated weapons systems.

In April and May this year, Russian weapons systems were flown to Baghdad from the military airport in Minsk, the capital of Belarus…

Kuwait was the first to react to the disclosure in DEBKA-Net-Weekly. An oil emirate probe turned up Belarus’s undercover sales to Iraq of upgrades of SA-3 anti-aircraft missiles, training programs for Iraqi air defense crews and pilots, and improvements of Iraqi MiG fighters. In response to Kuwait’s complaint, a large Belarus delegation went forth to persuade the emirs that their allegations were false. Unconvinced by Belarus protestations, Washington decided on its own investigation.

As a result, a strong American protest was lodged in February 2002 with the Belarus government, together with a threat of US economic sanctions if Minsk failed to suspend its military trading ties with Baghdad.

In view of past Belarus-Russian collaboration in arms transactions with Baghdad, Lukashenko felt entitled to a helping hand from Putin to get him out of hot water with the Americans. But he was left high and dry. Times have changed and so have the Russian president’s loyalties. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, Putin formed a close partnership with President Bush, in the wake of which Russia has halted aid to Iraq and thrown its support behind the coming US offensive against Iraq – just as it joined the American war effort in Afghanistan. (See also the second article in this issue.)

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