Monday, 17 March 2014

The EU, Russia and the ambiguities of military arms exports

Russia won the Crimean referendum. No surprises there. Apparently, union with Russia was preferred by 96% of the Crimean population - or at least by that part of the Crimean population that was not scared away from the voting booths - or at least by that part of the Crimean population that filled out the voting ballots in advance... Free and fair voting did not decide the matter; Russian armed force did.

And precisely the question of military arms form an awkward link between the EU and Russia. The EU Code of Conduct on arms exports outlines eight criteria, which supposedly governs this activity. The criteria include: "The respect of human rights in the country of final destination"; "Preservation of regional peace, security and stability"; and "The behaviour of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular to its attitude to...respect for international law." (

Now, it could be said that Russia is failing on these counts. Oh, wait, in fact EU member states have been saying just that for years - and are saying so even now:
Straight talk - a clear message all around! And for our next trick - can anyone guess which three countries licensed the most arms exports to Russia in the last year? All together now: Germany, France, and the United Kingdom!!! (Council of the European Union, The Fifteenth Annual Report, 21.1.2014, pages 253-55, at

In fairness, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have three of the largest economies in the world, and they were all among the sixth largest arms exporters in the world during 2009-13. None of these countries had Russia as one of their main destinations for major weapons sales (the fact that, during this period, Germany sold 8% of its weapons to Israel, France sold 13% of its weapons to China, and the UK sold a whopping 42% of its weapons to Saudi Arabia is, perhaps, scant consolation...). ( Yet even if Russia has not been a main market for the arms manufacturers of the giants of the EU, significant activity has still taken place.

Most discussed has probably been the decision by France in 2010 to sell two Mistral-class warships to Russia. These 23,000-tonnes vessels can carry troops and helicopters, and they can be used for amphibious assaults. ( Where might Russia possibly seek to deploy these ships? Why, in the Black Sea, of course! Following the Vladivostok, which was launched in October 2013, by 2016 France is set to deliver the second warship to Russia, which will slot nicely into newly "liberated" Crimean harbours with its beautiful name of Sevastopol... (

France has in recent days cast doubt on whether this and other weapons sales to Russia will go ahead given the current Russo-Ukrainian crisis. For instance, Fabius has threatened that Russian sailors might not now be allowed entry to France in order to train for use of the advanced ships. ( And today Fabius and the French Defence Minister Jean-Yves le Drian postponed indefinitely a planned visit to Moscow, also threatening that the warship contract might be suspended. (

But it all seems a bit too little, too late. And, as indicated above, France is far from the only EU-state with significant arms exports to Russia in recent years. Germany, for instance, has agreed to sell to Russia a technically advanced brigade-level training facility. ( And the UK has been preparing an arms treaty with Russia, which would British defence companies working together with their Russian counterparts on projects. (

You do not have to submit to a Cold War mentality to feel a little queasy about such affairs...

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