- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Russia under President Vladimir Putin has decided that, despite strong U.S. objections, the arms customer is always right.
A warm welcome in Moscow for Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan over the weekend and the signing of a new weapons deal with North Korea last week are just the latest demonstrations that Mr. Putins Russia is willing to challenge U.S. foreign policy priorities in the search for badly needed export markets.
"For Russia, the military-industrial complex supports a lot of workers and their families at a very difficult time for the economy," said Alexander Lukin, an instructor at the Institute for International Affairs in Moscow and now a visiting fellow at Washingtons Brookings Institution.
"This should really be seen as a social issue, something I dont think is really understood in the United States," he said.
Chinese diplomats in Russia told the Itar-Tass news agency that expanded military cooperation was a key agenda item for Mr. Tang during his visit. The Washington Times reported yesterday that the cooperation has deepened to the extent that Russian forces participated in Chinese military exercises simulating a full-scale U.S.-China clash over Taiwan.
The North Korean deal, announced Friday during a Moscow visit by Foreign Minister Kim Il-choi, would allow Pyongyang to repair and modernize Soviet-era tanks, fighter planes and submarines, Russian sources said.
Russia also has announced increased military cooperation with Iran, including a major arms deal last month, over the explicit objections of the State Department. The Iranian deals came shortly after Russia repudiated a secret understanding with the Clinton administration to restrict weapons sales to Iran.
As with other weapons deals that Russia has signed in recent months with what the U.S. government considers "rogue" states, the sales to Tehran were a mix of business and geopolitics, said Brenda Shaffer, research director of Harvards Caspian Studies Program and author of a forthcoming book on warming Russian-Iranian ties.
Iran, she noted, has been notably restrained in its criticism of the Russian campaign against Islamic separatist groups in Chechnya, and Russia has promised to aid Tehrans civil nuclear power industry.
Russia and Iran "share a number of compatible interests in the broad area between and near them — central Asia, Caucasus, Afghanistan, the Middle East — and a mutual perception of a need to combat what they have termed a unipolar international system, meaning U.S. hegemony," said the Harvard researcher.
Ariel Cohen and James Phillips, researchers at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in a recent analysis that money and politics have both played a role in Mr. Putins aggressive courting of Tehran.
"Moscow has two strategic goals in pursuing a military relationship with Iran: keeping its own military-industrial complex solvent and building a coalition in Eurasia to counterbalance U.S. military superiority," they wrote.
At a time when Mr. Putin still has not received a formal invitation to meet the new U.S. president in Washington, diplomatic traffic with China — Moscows single largest arms export market — has increased sharply. Mr. Tang was in Moscow putting the final touches on a strengthened "friendship and cooperation" treaty.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin will travel to Moscow in July to sign the new friendship treaty, and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji also plans a trip to Russia before the end of the year.
Mr. Putin is set to travel to China twice, once to take part in a regional forum on central Asia issues and a second time to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Shanghai in October.
Mr. Putins first trip abroad after taking office last year was to Beijing, and he also traveled to Pyongyang last summer. He is set to welcome North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for a return visit sometime later this year.
Mr. Lukin said one force driving closer Russia-China ties was clearly a shared concern about U.S. foreign policy moves, from the United States leading role in NATOs Kosovo conflict to President Bushs recent decision to upgrade American arms sales to Taiwan.
"I dont see it as a purely anti-American alliance, but that doesnt mean that U.S. policy did not contribute to developments here," he said.
The warming ties are a sharp change from the frosty Cold War relations between the two countries. China and the Soviet Union briefly came to blows over border and struggled for dominance as the worlds two leading communist powers.
"There are practically no problems troubling our relationship," Mr. Putin said as he welcomed Mr. Tang to the Kremlin for talks Sunday.

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