West 'trying to halt Russian arms sales'

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (Reuter) - Russia's leading warplane designer accused the West yesterday of trying to squeeze his country out of world arms markets, fearing the superiority of its hardware.

Rostislav Belyakov, head of the Mikoyan Design Bureau, which is responsible for Russia's most sophisticated MiG fighter, was speaking before the start of Moscow's first international air show.

Mr Belyakov said the quality of his warplanes was beyond doubt, but not one had been sold in 1991. He said ill-trained ministerial sales staff must take much of the blame for the failure, but added: 'Western rivals do not want to allow us on to world markets. The order is plain: squeeze Russia out of all areas. The foreign press does not miss a chance to blacken the name of Russian aviation.'

At the once top-secret Zhukovka airfield near Moscow, aircraft produced in the former Soviet republics formed a line 2km long to mark the formal opening of Russia's first international air show.

'Russia is beginning to reawaken as a mighty state,' said Alexander Rutskoi, the Russian Vice-President, at the opening. 'This air show is proof of that.' Mr Belyakov said that in the past, exports had been left in the hands of ministerial officials who knew little about what they were selling. A new agency, MiGservice, had therefore been set up to trade in aircraft and spare parts, cutting out bureaucratic middlemen.

Until the end of Communist rule, the Russian arms industry was assured of orders from its vast armed forces and from the Warsaw Pact countries. But now the only hope for arms producers across Russia, from the Mikoyan bureau to the Tula Kalashnikov rifle factory, is opening up overseas markets. Without foreign sales, plants will be forced to close, leaving Russia's defences weakened.

President Boris Yeltsin has given the go-ahead for an overseas sales drive. MiGservice will be pushing its most successful warplane, the MiG-29, in areas long dominated by American jets. The Russian plane is already produced under licence in India.