Yeltsin joins trend of tighter arms exports

Boris Yeltsin yesterday fired the chief of Russian arms exports, appointed a new supremo linked with the aircraft industry, and ordered a series of measures to tighten state control over the arms business - the country's principal earner of hard currency.

Mr Yeltsin fired Alexander Kotelkin, chief of the Rosvooruzheniye (Russian Armaments) state weapons export company, only a day after officials reported they expected to make more than $4bn (pounds 2.5bn) from arms sales this year. Last year, Russia was the world's third biggest arms exporter, with exports worth $4.6bn, just behind Britain's $4.8bn. Top was the United States, exporting $11.3bn worth of arms.

In Mr Kotelkin's place Mr Yeltsin has appointed Yevgeny Ananev, a former chairman of the Mapo bank which is linked with the company that builds the Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) range of combat aircraft.

The Presidential decrees issued yesterday transformed Rosvooruzheniye into a new state company bearing the same name but with greater government control. Two other state-run companies, Promexport and the new "Russian Technologies Company" were also granted the status of official weapons exporters. Promexport will handle selling military equipment made obsolete by Russia's planned military reforms, and Russian Technologies will handle the provision of military expertise necessary to operate equipment. Rosvooruzheniye will continue to handle the export of most new weapons systems.

Russia seems to be taking a leaf out of its Western competitors' book. Shortly after Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, announced a new "ethical" approach to arms exports, and with the US Congress finalising a new "code of conduct" on arms exports, Mr Yeltsin said he would personally approve all weapons export, until a detailed list of items allowed to be sold and of approved customers is finalised.

Mr Yeltsin has also ordered the newly appointed chief of Promexport, Vyacheslav Filimonov, to devise new measures to facilitate exports. According to Rosvooruzheniye's deputy director, Oleg Sidorenko, Russia is aiming to export arms to the Persian Gulf, elsewhere in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as its traditional customers, India and China.

Third world countries often need help to pay for their arms through export credit guarantees.

Mr Sidorenko said that although the US is by far the world's biggest arms exporterRussia might "catch up by 2001" - though Western experts doubt it. Russia's economy is in crisis and although some of its armaments are superb there are doubts about Russia's ability to provide after-sales service.

Yesterday, Russia unveiled a new anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, an updated version of the S-300, known to Nato as the SA-12 "Grumble", which is similar to the US Patriot. Russia recently did a deal to sell S-300s to the Greek Cypriots, which has greatly angered the Turks. The new S-300, called Favorit, has a longer range - 125 miles - and a more powerful warhead than earlier versions.

t Kiev (AP) - Ukraine's top arms sales official defended his country's deals to repair Soviet-made tanks for Syria, saying the refurbished equipment would not heighten tensions on the Israeli border. Ukraine recently returned more than 100 T-55MV tanks to Syria after repairing them under a 1995 contract to fix 200 of the vehicles, said Andriy Kukin, director of the arms sales co-ordination body Ukrspetsexport.

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