Russia Strikes First Bahrain Arms Deal After U.K., French Bans

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa sat in the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet at an air show in Manama last year. Photographer: Adam Jan/AFP/Getty Images

Russia for the first time is selling weapons to Bahrain after the U.K. and France banned deliveries of security equipment to the Gulf monarchy because of its crackdown on protesters.

Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run arms trader, says it wants more business in Bahrain. The country is selling AK103 Kalashnikovs with grenade launchers and ammunition for tens of millions of dollars to Bahrain, according to a person close to the Russian Defense Ministry who declined to be identified because the information isn’t public.

In February, France and the U.K. revoked export licenses for security equipment that could be used to quash internal unrest in Bahrain after government forces shot dead several protesters. At least 30 people were killed in this year’s uprising in Bahrain, a U.S. ally situated between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

“The relationship between Russia and Bahrain has been increasingly getting stronger,” Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, a Bahraini government spokesman, said by phone on Aug. 24 from the capital, Manama. “We are looking to cooperate with Russia in trade and technical services. One of the fields is in the area of light arms.”

He declined to comment on the details of specific contracts. Rosoboronexport Chief Executive Officer Anatoly Isaikin last week said Bahrain has become a new customer for Russian armaments.

“States in the region are interested in Russian air-defense systems, aviation equipment and weapons for ground forces,” the Moscow-based company said in an e-mailed response Aug. 24 to questions from Bloomberg News about the arms deal.

Human Rights

Bahraini security forces beat paramedics, doctors and nurses who treated the wounded during the uprising and prosecutors charged dozens of medical workers with crimes such as “incitement against the regime,” according to Human Rights Watch. In June, the U.S. put Bahrain on its list of human-rights violators.

“We will not issue licenses where we judge there is a clear risk that the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression,” U.K. Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said on Feb. 18.

Rosoboronexport said a mutually beneficial partnership between the two countries would help to strengthen Russia’s position among the Gulf’s U.S.-allied monarchies.

Fighter Jet

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa sat in the cockpit of a Russian SU-27 fighter jet at an air show in Manama last year.

“His Majesty’s interest in sitting in a very respectable Russian fighter jet does mean a lot, and it means that Russian capabilities today are some of the top in the world,” said Al Khalifa, the government spokesman.

The Russian government plans to reduce its holdings in United Shipbuilding Corp. and United Aircraft Corp. to 50 percent and in Uralvagonzavod to 75 percent, Alexei Uvarov, head of the Economy Ministry’s property department, which is overseeing Russian privatization plans, said July 27. United Aircraft is the parent company of the maker of Sukhoi jets and Uralvagonzavod makes modern T-90 battle tanks.

Russia, which is a major arms supplier to Syria, won’t halt weapons deliveries to its Soviet-era ally, Isaikin said on Aug. 17. “There are no sanctions and we have received no such government instructions, so we are obliged to fulfill our contracts,” he said.

Weapons Contracts

Russia signaled its opposition after the U.S., Britain and France on Aug. 23 circulated a draft resolution to United Nations Security Council members that would freeze the foreign assets of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and impose an arms embargo on his country. The UN says 2,200 people have been killed since protests against the Assad family’s 40-year rule began in March.

Russia has weapons contracts with Syria worth at least $3 billion, according to the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. The orders include Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles, MiG-29 fighter jets and Pantsir short-range air-defense systems.

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