Reliable Security Information

The "Lord of War" Arrives on U.S. Shores

Why is Moscow so upset about the extradition of Viktor Bout, the infamous "Merchant of Death" and "Lord of War", from Thailand?

I try to address this question over at The National Interest. Some points:

Russia is often caught between competing and contradictory interests. Its weapons industry is one of the most profitable sources of export revenue for the country. Like the United States and a number of European countries, Russia is a leader in the sale of all sorts of military technology. But some of Russia's actual and potential customers may not be able to purchase openly or directly--especially due to sanctions. The Russian government took a major financial "hit" by agreeing not to sell the S-300 air-defense system to Iran. Russia has also had to fend off criticism for weapons sales to countries like Syria and Sudan. The administration of Dmitry Medvedev, in working to advance the "reset" with Barack Obama, has taken steps that have had an impact on the country's bottom line.

Is the concern about Bout's extradition into U.S. jurisdiction, therefore, that Bout, under interrogation, will reveal "proprietary" information as to the ways in which sanctions regimes can be bypassed? The manner in which Russian intelligence develops "plausible deniability" for when Russian military equipment ends up in places that it shouldn't? Dmitry Zaks, writing for Agence France Press, quoted two Russian experts on the matter: "Bout can reveal too much about who took part in the shadowy arms sales and when he was doing it," said Institute of Strategic Assessment head Alexander Konovalov. "Bout is a person who knows an extraordinary amount about arms contracts," agreed Alexei Makarkin of the Centre of Political Technologies.

Some of this too can just be a sense of embarrassment. As Russia seeks to position itself for taking a greater share of the global military market, forging new ties with European conglomerates and trying to develop new contracts, having Bout back on the front pages is a reminder of "the bad old days" of the 1990s. And, by having failed to prevent Thailand from extraditing Bout to the United States, Moscow has received an unwelcome reminder that, despite its resurgence and the problems that the United States itself is undergoing, there is no equal contest between Moscow and Washington when America can bring the full weight of its influence to bear on a problem. Despite all the talk of a multipolar world and the decline of the United States, the reality of the Bout extradition is that Washington still wields a predominant influence in the global arena. No wonder, then, that the deputy chair of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, complained, "The United States is now trying to dictate its position on the entire system of global politics and international relations."

Subscribe to SitRep: SitRep RSS Feed SitRep ATOM Feed