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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Secrets on Wings. Belorussian [Belarusian] Officials Sell Americans Unique Surface-to-Air Missile System

by Mikhail Shchipanov
Moscow ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA
27 Dec 94 First Edition p 1


[FBIS Translated Text] There is nothing secret that will not be laid bare. The landing last week by an An-24 "Ruslan" transport at the U.S. Redstone Air Base (Alabama) was a sensation in itself.

Naturally, most questions were initially addressed to the Russian military authorities. And the questions became more acute as it became more obvious that a rather unseemly episode was unfolding. The aircraft had been shipping to the United States elements of the advanced S-300 PMU surface-to-air missile system -- the system which, in the opinion of specialists, is capable of outperforming its U.S. counterpart (the Patriot surface-to-air missile system and its modifications). It is well known that systems of this class can intercept tactical missiles, and the Americans widely advertised their system during Operation "Desert Storm," when the Patriots supposedly demonstrated unprecedented effectiveness in destroying Saddam Husayn's Scud missiles. At the time, Moscow had started talking openly for the first time about the unprecedented performance of our S-300, which reportedly surpasses the American "toy" in many areas.

In this context it would clearly be superfluous to talk about the extent to which U.S. specialists -- who, according to available information, are experiencing considerable difficulties in perfecting the Patriot 2 missile systems -- were interested in the possibility of taking an S-300 apart. Incidentally, the military base near the town of Huntsville is also home to the U.S. Army Missile Command, which develops tactical missiles and their logistic support. This digression is necessary in order to assess all the circumstances that prompted the new scandal. A scandal which became all the more poignant when it became known that the system had been supplied by fraternal Belorussia [Belarus], which had participated in its development and, consequently, now considered itself morally entitled to dispose of its Soviet legacy.

As often happens in the CIS, in Belorussia the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. Or the extreme right hand. The republic's president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, seemingly managed to veto the deal, but, clearly, the military business train had by then already left the station. Broken down into its components, the system was successfully sent abroad. Consequently, the opposition -- which, through the mouth of Deputy Antonchyk, had been able to accuse the Presidential Staff of multilayered corruption -- used this as ammunition as well. Actually, there is a possible mechanism for that demon of corruption which so sharply beguiled the Belorussian administrators. The size of the deal was given in advance -- $6 million (the actual price of the S-300 is virtually 10 times as much). It is not hard to imagine that a considerable proportion of the difference not received through official channels went to middlemen who can get around any veto for that kind of money. But this is speculation, put it that way. It is more interesting to look at the moral and legal aspects of the "deal of the year." Thus, according to existing information, the unit was sold by the government-controlled "Beltekheksport" firm. The firm rapidly found common ground with its colleagues from the U.S. company BDM International, which specializes in buying weapons systems for...Pentagon tests. According to available information, Moscow did not want to sell a single model to anyone. It could only be a question of the technology or a multibillion [currency unspecified] deal to supply many systems -- but the Yankees found the cheapest way to acquire the system they needed.

There are no formal bans on such deals. There is a ban on selling nuclear components promoting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There are agreements banning the export of missile technology -- it was on that basis that the Americans tried to thwart our sale of cryogenic engines to India. It was claimed that a new Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls would control such deals to ensure that advanced missile technology of terrible destructive force did not fall into the hands of dictators and unstable regimes. But the United States, naturally, is not considered to fall into that category. Moral restrictions remain, but their influence under today's market conditions are by no means equal to the countervailing argument of foreign currency.



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