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Russia angry at sanctions on arms firm

October 25, 2008|Sergei L. Loiko and Chris Kraul | Loiko and Kraul are Times staff writers.

MOSCOW — Russia reacted angrily Friday to U.S. sanctions leveled this week against an arms trading company, calling them an "arrogant application" of American laws abroad.

Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said the U.S. move to ban government agencies from dealing with Rosoboronexport, a state-owned company managed by a close friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was "absolutely incompatible with the new realities in the current world structure."

In addition to the Russian firm, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions against companies in China, South Korea, Sudan, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates for allegedly selling technology to Iran, North Korea and Syria that could lead to weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. has stepped up its international efforts to apply diplomatic pressure on Iran to make it halt the development of nuclear materials that might eventually be used in a bomb.

"If somebody in Washington thinks that in this way the United States will make Russia more accommodating in accepting the U.S. approach to the solution of the Iran nuclear problem, this is a mistake," Lavrov told reporters Friday.

Lavrov contended that the company's sales were legal and met international guidelines. But State Department spokeswoman Sara Mangiaracina said the Russian company and others were in violation of the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act passed by Congress in 2007.

The sanctions against Russia surprised some observers because they came after a meeting this week in Finland of the top military leaders from the U.S. and Russia, the first high-level encounter between the nations since the Russian incursion into Georgia in August.

The sanctions in Venezuela were directed at the International Development Bank, which is said to be an affiliate of Iranian financial interests; and CAVIM, a state-controlled company that manufactures a variety of small arms.

Iran and Venezuela have strengthened trade ties in recent years, with their respective presidents, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez, uniting to confront the United States, which both leaders regularly and strongly criticize.

Russia has stepped up its military cooperation with Venezuela. Four Russian naval vessels are due to arrive in Venezuela next month to participate in joint military exercises.

But Igor Danchenko, a research analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Russia sells a variety of "defensive, not strategic" weapons to Iran, including missile air defense systems.

"The U.S. has been making informal accusations against Russian companies for some time, but they don't hold any water," Danchenko said. "This is a formal step that makes the Russians look bad."

Rosoboronexport is headed by Sergei Chemezov, a KGB colleague of Putin when both were stationed in East Germany.

Danchenko noted that the sanctions were limited to one branch of the conglomerate, and that Rosoboronexport also sold titanium to Boeing Co. for use in building jetliners.

Anders Aslund, a senior fellow who follows Russia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the sanctions would have little practical effect on the company, which is Russia's largest arms export firm.

"Still, it's something that President Bush felt was important to do before he left office," Aslund said, adding that Russian arms trading firms were also sanctioned in 2004. "Arms sales have become too blatant."

Lavrov and other Russian officials accused the United States, a leading global arms trader in its own right, of applying a double standard.

"It stems from the same old unipolar world philosophy," Lavrov said. "We will be taking this into account in our practical matters, in the relations with the United States both in trade and other spheres."

Russia's envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Dmitry Rogozin, said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that the measures "are far-fetched. Moreover, they are quite provocative and insulting to Russia as a nation."

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Sergei L. Loiko reporting from Moscow

Chris Kraul reporting from Bogota, Colombia

chris.kraul@latimes.com

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