The Cold War has been over for more than a decade. It has become fashionable to now think of Russia, formerly our mortal enemy, as our “strategic partner.” The partnership may have been able to survive Russia’s opposition to the war on Iraq and threatened veto against a United Nations’ resolution authorizing the use of force. But it is not clear that the partnership can survive revelations of Russia’s supply of military equipment to Baghdad for the purpose of killing American servicemen.
Somehow the media and others had managed to forget that Iraq was a client state of the former Soviet Union. Most of its main battle units, like the Republican Guards, are equipped with Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and artillery. For the most part, the U.S. has been willing to overlook this as a sort of left-over from the past.
But now comes word that Russia has been repeatedly violating U.N. sanctions by selling Saddam Hussein advanced military technologies. These include global positioning system jammers intended to disorient U.S. pilots and cause cruise missiles to go astray. U.S. forces have reportedly wiped out six sites within Iraq where such jammers were operating. The Russians have also sold night-vision devices to Iraq that could offset one of the key U.S. military advantages. Many U.S. military units claim that they “own the night,” but Iraqi acquisition of sophisticated night vision devices could negate that advantage.
More ominously for future combat operations, it appears that a Russian anti-tank missile has scored the first hit on a U.S. main battle tank. News reports indicate that Russian Kornet missiles were used to disable two of our Abrams M-1 A-1 tanks. The Kornet was first introduced in 1994, long after U.N. sanctions prohibited the export of such weapons to Iraq. U.S. officials tried to stop the sale of such missiles more than a year ago, but failed. Reportedly, in the past two months the Iraqis have purchased a “militarily significant quantity” of Kornet anti-tank missiles. There are also reports that Russian technicians have remained in Iraq to train and assist the military in the use of this equipment.
That was too much even for the New York Times, which urged Russia to halt such assistance. The Putin government denies that it is selling such equipment to Iraq. But over the past year, U.S. officials have repeatedly appealed to the Russian government to stop such sales. Obviously, these appeals have failed. Russia has deflected these appeals with a ploy that has become commonplace over the past decade. Russia, like China, claims that these sales were made by private corporations and not state enterprises.
Government officials always profess shock and surprise when told of such sales and then immediately press for more intelligence on the sales. This serves mostly to compromise U.S. sources and methods, but does nothing to prevent further transactions. Most of the corporations simply change their names and go right on operating as before. This tactic has worked for China repeatedly. It appears that Russians have learned the Chinese lesson well.