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UK red-faced on sales to Russia

July 23, 2014

After David Cameron slammed France's sale of two warships to Russia, a cross-party parliamentary report has revealed that more than 200 UK licenses to sell weapons to Moscow remain valid.

Russland kauft französische Kriegsschiffe
Image: picture alliance/dpa

British Prime Minister David Cameron was among the strongest advocates of an EU arms embargo against Russia on Tuesday, but woke on Wednesday to criticism of his own government's existing military deals with Moscow.

More than 200 licenses issued for planned UK weapons exports to Russia remain valid, worth a minimum of 132 million pounds (166 million euros, $225 million). A cross-party parliamentary enquiry in London, releasing its findings on Wednesday, said the licenses covered equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armor and military communications equipment.

Speaking in parliament on Monday, David Cameron had said: "Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead. We have already stopped them from Britain." The government in London said in March that it would be stopping many weapons deals with Moscow. However, the committee's chair Sir John Stanley wrote to new British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to ask why only 34 of the 285 current licenses for sales to Russia had been suspended or revoked.

England Treffen Francois Hollande mit David Cameron 31.01.2014
Cameron had taken Hollande to task over French exports this weekImage: Reuters

French critique diluted by report

The French press showed a certain amusement after the parliamentary report's release, following two days of British criticism aimed at a warship deal between France and Russia. Cameron had said on Monday that it would be "unthinkable" in Britain to sell two "Mistral" class warships - capable of transporting helicopters, tanks, vehicles and troops - to Russia.

The first French-built ship, the Vladivostock, is almost complete and due for delivery in October.

"London criticizes Paris for having sold weapons to Russia… and then does the same," read a headline on French newspaper Le Monde's website on Wednesday.

The US had also criticized Paris over the deal.

"Clearly we think it's completely inappropriate and we've told them they should not do it," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters when asked about the ships' sale.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had said on Tuesday at the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels that any EU embargo on arms deliveries to Russia would only apply to "future contracts."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier PK 22.7.2014
Steinmeier on Tuesday said sanctions would only hit future dealsImage: DW/B.Riegert

Riot gear to Israel, chemicals to Syria

A total of four committees within the British parliament are charged with scrutinizing the country's weapons exports. The parliamentarians on Wednesday called for tighter controls in Britain, saying the government had approved 3,000 exports licenses, worth 12 billion pounds, to a total of 28 countries cited by the British foreign Office for their poor human rights record.

Their report said the British government "would do well to acknowledge that there is an inherent conflict between strongly promoting arms exports to authoritarian regimes whilst strongly criticizing their lack of human rights."

Specifically, the committees asked for clarification on sales to Israel, for equipment including "anti-riot/ballistic shields," small arms, sniper rifles and combat vehicles. Sales of dual-purpose chemicals, which could be used for military or civilian purposes, to Syria were also highlighted: the committee said the former Labour government's sales from July 2004 to May 2010 were already "highly questionable." The approval of two further deliveries by Cameron's coalition government in January 2012, after the Syrian civil war began, "was irresponsible," according to the report.

Finally, the committee appealed for a stricter British code on arms exports, claiming the most significant policy change made by Cameron's government in the past year was dropping a sentence in the arms sales criteria which stated: "An export license will not be issued if the arguments for doing so are outweighed ... by concern that the goods might be used for internal repression." They advocated reinstating this proviso.

msh/dr (AFP, AP, Reuters)