October 31, 2007 / 1:15 PM / 10 years ago

No one can limit Russian arms exports: Putin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will allow no one to limit its legitimate arms exports, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday in a veiled warning to the United States over sanctions imposed on Russia's biggest arms seller.

Under Putin, Russian arms firms have aggressively pushed sales abroad as the Kremlin seeks to reassert its role as a global power in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

"Russia has always adhered, does adhere and will adhere to all international obligations in the sphere of military cooperation, including the current regime of export control," Putin was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"Any attempts to bind us with other limits based on unilateral or political evaluations cannot and will not be accepted by us.".

Russia's drive to boost arms exports have raised tensions with the United States because the former Cold War foes -- and the world's two biggest arms exporters -- are often in direct competition for major contracts.

The United States imposed sanctions last year on Russia's state arms trader Rosoboronexport for cooperating with Iran, a move Moscow has called "illegal" and "clearly illegitimate."

Rosoboronexport, one of the world's biggest arms traders, is headed by an old colleague from Putin's KGB past, Sergei Chemezov. The firm's influence has soared under Putin and it has taken over major metals and car companies.

Russia said this year it had completed a contract to deliver TOR-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, which is under international sanctions for its nuclear program.

Washington and Israel say Iran could use the missile systems to attack its neighbors. Russia says the TOR-M1 is a short range missile system and a purely defensive weapon.

ARMS SALES

Speaking to members of an arms export commission, Putin said Russian arms exports were aimed exclusively at strengthening countries' defenses and supporting regional stability.

Kremlin officials regard Russia's arms industry as one of the few sectors that can compete with Western firms on equal terms after the chaos which accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union.

But Putin said the quality of Russian arms had to improve.

"The confidence of foreign partners in the potential of our military technology and our armed forces depends directly on this," Putin said, according to Interfax.

"If the quality is better then confidence will be higher, and our arms and technology will be more in demand on the world market, and the activities of our army and navy will be more effective," Putin said.

China and India, still the biggest buyers of Russian arms, have decreased in importance, defense officials say.

Details of a multi-billion arms deal with Venezuela surfaced after a visit by President Hugo Chavez to Moscow in July. The United States criticized the contracts.

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