Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Report

8  International security issues



302. Russia is the world's second-largest arms producer and exporter.[616] Its arms sales are estimated to be worth around $6 billion a year.[617]

303. Having recently published a study on the issue, the NGO Saferworld drew our attention to the importance of Russian small arms and light weapons (SALW) production and export. According to Saferworld, Russia "is […] one of the world's largest SALW producers and one of the most active countries on the world SALW market."[618] Russian SALW exports are estimated to be worth $60-200 million a year.[619]

304. Russia's arms sector has recently been characterised by a process of concentration among firms producing and trading arms. This development parallels trends in the wider economy towards integration in large conglomerates.[620] Saferworld told us that from 1 March 2007, the state-owned arms trading company Rosoboronexport is the only company legally permitted to engage in the foreign trade of military goods.[621]

305. A further key trend in the sector is the apparent effort to expand Russian arms exports, including into new markets. For example, Rosoboronexport has been providing credit to defence firms to allow them to produce for export orders.[622] Russia's drive for increased exports includes the conclusion of new licensing agreements for the production of SALW in third countries.[623]

306. Wholly reliable and comprehensive information about Russia's arms production and exports is not available. The FCO told us that us that Russia is an "active" member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, the organisation which aims to enhance stability and security by promoting transparency in the conventional arms trade.[624] However, Saferworld told us that "Public information concerning Russian production and trade of armaments […] is […] difficult to obtain, inaccurate or shrouded in excessive secrecy."[625] Russia does not publish an annual report on its arms exports.[626] Moreover, according to Saferworld, "the Russian Government is subject to limited or no pressure from the general public, as well as its own parliament, to become more 'transparent'."[627] Our discussions with parliamentarians and arms control experts in Moscow in June 2007 tended to confirm this view.

307. On the basis of the information which is available, China and India are known to be Russia's most important arms customers. It is reckoned that between them they account for about 70% of Russian arms exports.[628] The UK opposes Russia's arms sales to China, which is under an EU arms embargo.[629] Russia is also thought to export arms to countries including Algeria, Burma, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria, UAE and Yemen.[630]

308. Russian SALW arms sales to Syria have aroused particular concern, especially in the US and Israel, because of the suspicion that such arms are diverted from Syria to Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. According to Saferworld, as a direct result of such accusations, the Russian Government passed a resolution in October 2006 requiring arms exporters to verify that exported goods were used as intended in the receiving country.[631]

309. In May 2007, Amnesty International accused Russia, along with China, of violating the UN arms embargo against transfers of arms to parties engaged in the conflict in Darfur.[632] According to Amnesty, Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships supplied to the Sudan Air Force were used in attacks on civilians in Darfur between January and March 2007. The UN Panel of Experts on Sudan had similarly reported the use of Mi-24s in Darfur in 2006.[633] Amnesty said that Russian-supplied Antonov aircraft were also in use in Darfur. According to Amnesty, in 2005 Russia exported to Sudan aircraft and related equipment worth $21 million and helicopters worth a further $13.7 million. Saferworld told us that it shared Amnesty's concerns.[634] Russia has denied Amnesty's allegations.

310. Commenting on Russia's arms exports overall, Saferworld told us that:

    There are major concerns about the quality and implementation of Russia's arms transfer controls. [The] Russian Government does not apply [a] criteria-based approach in its decisions on licensing arms exports, such as that enshrined in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. There are concerns that human rights and the humanitarian situation in recipient countries are not given priority in licensing exports, despite Russia's existing obligations under international law (including international treaties) and commitments to a variety of international, multilateral and regional initiatives.[635]

311. The UK has been a prime mover behind efforts to achieve a legally binding international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) through the UN. The ATT would better regulate the trade in conventional arms. In a resolution co-authored by the UK, the UN General Assembly voted in December 2006 to launch a UN process to work towards an ATT. The General Assembly invited member states to submit position papers by April 2007, on the basis of which the Secretary General would report to the 2007 session of the General Assembly and convene a governmental experts group in 2008 to examine the possible parameters of a treaty.[636] We have consistently supported the Government in this initiative. In our Report on the FCO's Human Rights Annual Report 2006, we were concerned primarily about the position of the US, which was the only state to vote against the General Assembly resolution.[637] However, Russia was among the 24 states to abstain from the vote.

312. The FCO told us that the UK is "engaged in a constructive dialogue with Russia" on the ATT.[638] However, in its submission to the UN ATT process, Russia expressed scepticism about both the need for and the feasibility of such an international agreement.[639] In the field of conventional arms regulation, Russia appears most concerned to control the unlicensed production of SALW. Saferworld suggested to us that this concern reflected "an economic rationale [...] rather than motivations relating to the spread of armaments worldwide."[640]

313. Along with the US, China and Israel, Russia boycotted the February 2007 Oslo meeting at which over 40 states—including the UK—committed themselves to concluding a legally binding instrument to prohibit the production, transfer, stockpiling and use of cluster munitions "that cause unacceptable harm to civilians".[641] The same group of states also did not attend the follow-up meeting in Lima in May 2007.[642]

314. We welcome Russia's October 2006 resolution on post-shipment verification, and its engagement in a number of international conventional arms control regimes. We note that, unlike the US, Russia at least did not vote against the December 2006 UN General Assembly ATT resolution. The concentration of legal arms export authority in Rosoboronexport has the potential to facilitate greater control and transparency of Russian arms exports. However, in its evidence to us, the FCO said that the UK "encourage[s] Russia to act responsibly in its conduct of arms exports". This suggests that the Government recognises that shortcomings remain.[643] We regard Russia's willingness to export arms to destinations where they are likely to exacerbate conflict and human rights violations as unhelpful to international security. We are concerned about the profound lack of transparency which surrounds Russian arms sales and which heightens international suspicions of Russia's behaviour in this field. Given the scale of Russian production and export, we are of the view that conventional arms control initiatives supported by the UK cannot be fully effective without Russian participation. We recommend that the FCO consider ways in which it could include activities on arms trade transparency in its programme work in Russia. We further recommend that the FCO continue to seek to win Russian support for the Arms Trade Treaty, as a potentially important expression of Russia's desired status as a respected and responsible international power. We also recommend that in its response to this Report the Government update us on progress regarding Russian support for the Arms Trade Treaty following the 2007 UN General Assembly session.


315. The UK regards Russia as "a key player on proliferation issues."[644] In the field of nuclear proliferation, the two current cases of actual or potential proliferation being tackled by the international community are North Korea and Iran. Both cases are being dealt with largely through the UN Security Council, which gives Russia an important role by virtue of its permanent Security Council seat. In the case of North Korea, since the country withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, on-off talks designed to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme have been conducted in a six-party framework in which Russia is one of the parties, along with North and South Korea, the US, China and Japan. In the case of Iran, talks are being conducted with Tehran by the so-called E3+3, comprising the two EU states which are permanent members of the Security Council—the UK and France—plus Germany (the 'E3'), and the remaining three permanent Security Council members, including Russia. The E3+3 have been represented in talks with Iran largely by the EU's High Representative, Javier Solana. Negotiations and offers of greater cooperation with Iran, most notably in an E3+3 offer of June 2006, comprise one track of the international community's 'twin-track' strategy on the Iranian nuclear issue, with a UN sanctions process comprising the other.

316. In the cases of both North Korea and Iran, Russia is opposed to these states' acquisition of nuclear weapons. In either case, the proliferation of nuclear weapons would represent the rise of a new power and threaten regional destabilisation on or close to Russia's borders. Professor Fedorov told us with regard to North Korea that "[n]uclearisation of the region and arms races in the region are of absolutely no interest to Russia, because they would diminish Russia's military position in the far east reaches of the country, which is one of its key regions."[645] As regards Iran, Professor Light told us that "the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran is an extremely unattractive one" for Russia.[646]

317. While Russia shares the UK's opposition to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran, by the FCO's own admission "Russia's view has often varied from [the UK's] on the timing and nature of economic pressure or sanctions, and on the role that the UNSC should play."[647] Although other more specific factors are also involved, in broad terms Russia would prefer to pursue engagement and talks with the two states as a non-proliferation strategy, rather than impose sanctions.[648] In evidence to our parallel inquiry on Iran, discussing the efforts to pursue UN Security Council sanctions, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, Lord Triesman, said that the UK had expected that "only Russia would be really difficult, and it was."[649] Owing to Russian objections to tougher earlier drafts, the UN Security Council resolutions passed on North Korea in July 2006[650] and Iran in December 2006[651] were substantially weakened. In his evidence to our Iran inquiry, Sir Richard Dalton told us that "the cost of […] international unity has been weak measures, only slowly applied".[652]

318. Ms Aldis pointed out that Russia had a further difficulty in backing US-led non-proliferation efforts because it "would like to see itself as a guarantor of non-proliferation and of international security", whereas it regards the US as "the main agent of proliferation in the world because of its abrogation of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, its national missile defence and for various other reasons, as President Putin said in his Munich speech."[653]

319. Notwithstanding the difficulties with Russia, so far formulae have been found at the UN Security Council that have allowed Moscow to vote in favour of all the relevant recent resolutions imposing limited sanctions on Iran and North Korea—regarding Iran in December 2006[654] and March 2007,[655] and regarding North Korea in October 2006,[656] following Pyongyang's first nuclear test. These resolutions passed unanimously. In his evidence to us, the Minister for Europe agreed with a description of Russia as "credible" and "a good partner" on North Korea and, as regards Iran, said that "the UK and Russia have common cause. Neither of us wishes to see Iran with an aggressive nuclear capacity".[657]

320. Despite the major setback of North Korea's nuclear test, the indications are that the six-party process concerning that country is finally producing some results—although caution remains warranted. In February 2007, North Korea agreed to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facility and allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), in return for international supplies of economic, energy and humanitarian assistance. After bad-tempered delays, this agreement was eventually implemented in July 2007, when North Korea shut down and sealed Yongbyon.[658] In September 2007, the US announced that North Korea had agreed to declare and disable all its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.[659] In October, agreement appeared to be confirmed that Yongbyon, at least, would be disabled by the end of 2007.[660]

321. At the time of preparing this Report, the situation with respect to Iran provided more grounds for concern. In August 2007, Tehran agreed a new programme of nuclear inspections with the IAEA. However, Iran was also continuing with its uranium enrichment activities, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.[661] The situation provided grounds to argue variously that the existing sanctions regime should be given longer to take effect; that sanctions were working and should therefore be stepped up; and that the diplomatic 'twin-track' process should be abandoned in favour of military action. The UK sought to adhere to the 'twin-track' strategy but with a strengthened sanctions regime. A new draft Security Council resolution was expected to be discussed during autumn 2007.

322. For the UK, Russia's position with regard to Iran is more urgent than its stance on North Korea, since—as both our witnesses and the FCO pointed out—Russia is a relatively minor player on North Korea, where the US and China are the decisive players.[662] In addition to its general stance regarding sanctions in non-proliferation cases, Russia's attitude on the Iranian issue is shaped by the fact that it does not necessarily share the US assessment, certainly, of the imminence of the threat represented by Iran's nuclear programme. According to Dr Allison, "in Russian thinking in this second Putin presidency there is […] a tendency to be rather dismissive of the wider concerns about Iran as a threatening, destabilising power, let alone about the possibility of Iran being linked to international terrorism."[663] Furthermore, compared to other Security Council members, Russia is in a special position with regard to Iran, with which it has maintained relatively good relations and has important trade links. Russia has explored with Iran the possibility of enriching in Russia the uranium Tehran requires for its claimed civil nuclear programme. Most importantly, Russia has been constructing for Iran a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, for which Moscow has agreed to supply the required fuel. This gives Russia a degree of leverage over Tehran, but also a stake in its current relationship there.

323. As of autumn 2007, speculation was rising that Russia might have reached the limits of its willingness to back sanctions against Iran, and that the strengthened sanctions regime sought by the UK would not be available through a unanimous Security Council vote. Sir Richard Dalton told us that he thought Russia would agree to a further round of sanctions, "provided that it does not impact too much on Russian traders."[664] However, Professor Fedorov told us that "Russia cannot accept very strong sanctions because it may lead to regime change in Iran."[665] According to Professor Fedorov, "a pro-Western government [in Iran] is not in Russia's strategic interests in the region."[666] A pro-Western government in Iran would add to Russia's sense of regional geopolitical loss.[667] Moreover, Russia may consider that an Iran no longer isolated from the West would represent a stronger rival energy supplier.

324. Professor Fedorov also outlined to us Russia's absolute rejection of the possibility of military action against Iran. Like its reluctance about sanctions, Russia's opposition to military action stems partly from fears of 'regime change' in Tehran. According to Professor Fedorov, Russia might see three possible outcomes of military action against Iran:

    Outcome No. 1 is that the operation is successful and a pro-Western government in Iran is established […] such an outcome is […] absolutely not in the interests of Russia. Outcome No. 2 is the Iraqi scenario, which means chaotic developments in Iran after a military attack. That is not in the interests of Russia either, because it would mean a hotbed of instability and extremism emerging near its borders. The third option […] is the division of Iran along ethnic lines. That would mean northern Iran and Azerbaijan forming a large, integral Azerbaijani state, most probably with a pro-Western and pro-Turkey orientation, which is [also] not in the interests of Russia."[668]

325. Given Russia's reluctance about further sanctions against Iran, its opposition to military action, and its doubts about the imminence of a useable Iranian nuclear capability, Professor Fedorov concluded that Russia's interest as regards Iran lies in the status quo.[669] Furthermore, Dr Allison pointed out that the current situation regarding Iran was to Russia's advantage "because it is one area, diplomatically, where [Russia] has some leverage. [Russia] has been seeking trade-offs, but it has not been quite sure what trade-offs it can obtain in discussing this issue with Western countries."[670]

326. Russia's preference for retaining the status quo in Tehran may explain the reported slow-down in its work on the Bushehr reactor in 2007. This is assumed to represent an attempt to exert Moscow's bilateral leverage to encourage Iranian compliance with its international nuclear obligations.[671] Sir Richard Dalton told us that the Russians "are aware that Russia bilaterally has leverage with Iran and they are willing to use it, for example in connection with bringing the Bushehr reactor on stream." [672]

327. In October 2007, President Putin said that he had "no real data to claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, which makes us believe the country has no such plans".[673] Later the same month, President Putin attended a summit of Caspian states in Tehran. In a summit declaration, the Caspian states affirmed their commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to states' right to pursue civil nuclear power. During his visit to Tehran, during which he also held bilateral meetings, President Putin stated his opposition to the use of force in the Caspian region; affirmed Russia's commitment to the completion of the Bushehr project, although without giving a firm timetable; and invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to Moscow.[674] Putin also reportedly offered a "special proposal" on the nuclear issue to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of which no details had been made public by the time this Report was finalised.[675] Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly emerged from a meeting with Putin arranged hastily after Putin's Tehran trip "'with an understanding that Russia is concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons"'.[676]

328. We welcome Russia's participation so far in international anti-proliferation efforts regarding North Korea and Iran, and Russia's willingness to be represented by the EU High Representative in international efforts to encourage Tehran to abandon uranium enrichment. To maximise prospects of winning Russian support for the strengthened sanctions against Iran which it seeks, we recommend that the Government work to bring closer together the Western and Russian assessments of the Iranian nuclear threat. We further recommend that the Government do all it can to encourage Russia to use its leverage over Iran in the interests of the latter's compliance with its nuclear obligations.


329. A major strand in the UK's engagement in Russia is pursued as part of the Global Partnership Against Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. The Global Partnership is a G8 programme launched at the Kananaskis summit in 2002 and intended to run for 10 years. Some 23 states are now involved, plus the EU.[677] The Global Partnership aims to "prevent terrorists, or those that harbour them, from acquiring or developing nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological weapons; missiles; and related materials, equipment and technology".[678] The Global Partnership has focused on Russia, where the UK's involvement has concentrated on four areas: the destruction of chemical weapons, the dismantling of decommissioned nuclear submarines, the security of fissile materials and the employment of former weapons scientists. The UK has pledged up to $750 million over the life of the Global Partnership; the Global Partnership is the UK's largest programme in Russia and the former Soviet Union.[679] For the UK, the Global Partnership is a cross-departmental programme, with the FCO taking the overall lead, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (previously the Department for Trade and Industry) responsible for managing the nuclear elements of the programme, and the Ministry of Defence responsible for chemical and biological projects.[680]

330. Reflecting its growing economy, Russia is making an increasing financial contribution to Global Partnership projects in Russia. This applies particularly to chemical weapons projects.[681] Overall, it is estimated that Russia may contribute around $6 billion to the Global Partnership by 2012.[682]

331. The UK reported on progress regarding its Global Partnership activities in its 2006 annual Global Partnership report. According to the report, the main achievements of the UK's Global Partnership involvement in the preceding year included:

  • completion on time and budget of a nuclear storage facility in Murmansk;
  • completion on time and budget of the dismantling of a third nuclear submarine, partly in partnership with Norway;
  • implementation of the first projects to enhance the security of civilian nuclear facilities;
  • completion of a study to direct the international effort to remove spent nuclear fuel from Andreeva Bay on the Arctic;
  • Royal Navy assistance to Norway to remove for dismantling the last nuclear submarine from the Gremikha base in the Arctic;
  • further implementation, in cooperation with other partners, of infrastructure and equipment projects for the key chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch'ye;
  • implementation of projects expected to secure over 1,000 sustainable jobs for former weapons scientists;
  • completion of a review of the future management of the UK Global Partnership programme, together with agreement on new inter-departmental governance arrangements; and
  • completion of an evaluation of the UK's Global Partnership programme by the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), which found that the UK Global Partnership programme was "well focused and making a significant impact on addressing the priorities identified by leaders at the G8 Kananaskis summit".[683]

332. Commenting on the fields covered by the Global Partnership, Dr Averre told us that:

    this is one area where the UK has done a lot […] a lot that is positive has been done, to the extent that now, when the UK is doing work on chemical weapons destruction, other countries are coming in and piggy-backing on UK efforts […] on the nuclear side […] [the] DTI programmes are more effective than a lot of the US programmes, even though a much larger amount of US assistance goes in […] The UK programmes have been pragmatic and workable. The UK contractors are seen as people that the Russians can work with and a lot of good will has been built up.[684]

333. During our visit to Moscow we visited a nuclear research institute benefiting from UK Global Partnership assistance. The visit confirmed the real security risks being addressed by the programme and the ability of well-directed international assistance in this field to make a concrete difference on the ground. Russian colleagues appeared to have good working relations with the UK officials and specialists involved in the project, and to be genuinely appreciative of the cooperation.

334. Progress in some Global Partnership areas continues to be hampered by what Ms Aldis called the "culture of secrecy" in the Russian military, particularly as regards WMD materials.[685] For example, the FCO told us there were difficulties achieving cooperation on the redirection of Russian biological weapons scientists.[686] However, the FCO also reported that Russia had agreed recently to improved transparency measures regarding its chemical weapons destruction programme, with Russia and the US hosting visits to destruction sites by representatives of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.[687]

335. Dr Averre told us that the re-employment of nuclear scientists and other workers also remained problematic, as further nuclear reactors were shut down. Dr Averre suggested that the UK and EU could do more to bring Russian nuclear scientists into international scientific partnerships.[688]

336. The Global Partnership is due to come to an end in 2012. We conclude that the UK's Global Partnership programme is making a significant contribution to reducing security risks from WMD materials in Russia. We welcome Russia's growing financial contribution to the programme. We recommend that the Government continue to work, with due regard to legitimate Russian sensitivities, to overcome the lack of transparency that is impeding further progress in some areas. We recommend that the Government explore ways of further enhancing re-employment prospects for Russian nuclear scientists. We further recommend that, in common with its G8 partners, including Russia, the Government start to consider options for the post-2012 period that will allow any remaining Global Partnership work in Russia to continue.

Middle East Peace Process

337. Russia is a member of the international Quartet pursuing the Middle East Peace Process, together with the US, the UN and the EU. Following the victory of Hamas over Fatah in the January 2006 legislative elections for the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet declared that it would not deal with the Hamas government until Hamas complied with three principles: recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, and acceptance of previous agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority. The Quartet also suspended direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

338. Despite the Quartet principles, the leader-in-exile of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, visited Russia in February 2007, following the Mecca agreement which brought Fatah into the Hamas government. Meshaal had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister.

339. Russia has not appeared recently to be playing an especially weighty or activist role in the Middle East Peace Process. Historically, it has supported the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, Meshaal's visit to Moscow accorded with signs that Russia is seeking to increase its role in the region, in line with its general current ambition to become a more significant international player.[689] In evidence to our previous inquiry into the Middle East, the Council for Arab-British Understanding said that "Russia has made strenuous attempts to increase its influence" in the region, pointing, for example, to the first visit by a Russian President to Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in February 2007.[690]

340. The UK, along with other Quartet members, has chosen not to regard Meshaal's visit to Moscow as a breach of the Quartet principles. In mid-March 2007, the FCO Minister of State Dr Kim Howells MP told our inquiry into the Middle East that, since Meshaal's visit, Russia "seems determined to remain part of the Quartet and to subscribe to its joint statements."[691] Elaborating, the FCO official Dr Peter Gooderham told us that Russia:

    has consistently signed up to the Quartet statements relating to the formation of a Palestinian Government, and as far as we understand it accepts the proposition that the international community should wait and see the shape of the new Government and how they are comprised, and give them an opportunity to demonstrate through their actions what their platform comprises. That is our understanding of what all members of the Quartet have agreed to.[692]

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