ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (Reuters) - Russia’s top arms exporter said on Wednesday it intended to continue selling weapons to Syria, despite calls from the United States for Moscow to halt its weapons trade with Damascus.
Russia, the world’s second largest arms exporter, wants to make up for $4 billion of contracts lost when the United Nations placed an arms embargo on Libya this year and is also looking to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia to compensate.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Russia last week to halt arms deliveries to Syria, one of the Russian defense industry’s best clients, following the crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
“There were deliveries of arms to Syria last year, and there will be deliveries this year. They will continue,” Anatoly Isaykin, general director of Russia’s top arms exporter Rosoboronexport, told a news conference at Russia’s premiere airshow outside Moscow.
There has been no sign from the Kremlin that Russia is about to respond to Clinton’s appeal by halting arms deliveries to Damascus. Russia has repeatedly said sales in the region conform with international law and do not threaten regional security.
Russia has carved out a niche selling arms to countries unwilling or unable to buy from the top arms exporter, the United States.
Isaykin said Rosoboronexport would deliver on contracts it has signed with Syria, including a recent agreement for Russia’s Yak-130 light attack fighter plane.
He said he expected to make deliveries on at least $9 billion worth of arms globally in 2011, higher than sales of around $8.6 billion last year. Rosoboronexport makes up 80-90 percent of the country’s arms exports every year.
“I’m sure the volume (of arms supplies) will total at least $9 billion,” he said.
Russia’s arms sales have soared by more than 20 percent in the first half of 2011 to $5.9 billion as governments, fearing turmoil like that seen this year in North Africa and the Middle East, boost their arms stockpiles, Isaykin said.
“Naturally we are trying to compensate for the losses we saw due to the events of North Africa,” Isyakin said.
“We are trying to work more actively on the African continent, in western-central Africa. Southeast Asia, is one of the places where we are trying to market more effectively as are the countries of South America.”
The Russian arms industry — nurtured under Vladimir Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency — has sold weapons to post-Soviet states and Cold War allies for decades on the strength of Soviet design and technology, which once rivaled that of the United States.
Today Russia is feeding a hungry market of Asian countries warily eyeing China’s growing military might and African nations preparing for the worst in potential regional conflicts.
Editing by Timothy Heritage