In an increasingly confused world, it has become apparent that Russia, for all its talk, is consistently positioning itself against the interests of the United States, Europe-and often on the side of Islamist radicals.
It is not just true in the U.N. Security Council with Iran, where, along with China, Russia is protecting an important client despite what such support means.
It is also true in Lebanon (directly and through Iran), the republic of Georgia and Somalia, where Russian weapons merchants, including but not limited to Viktor Bout, are supplying large amounts of weapons to fuel wars that will have a devastating impact on entire regions. In each case the beneficiary is going to be enemies of development, democracy and human rights. The beneficiaries will be radical Islamists.
President Bush famously warned that in the war on terrorism, you are with us or against us. The Russians, it seems, like the Pakistanis, Saudis and many others, are both. Russia is a particularly troubling case because of the quantitiy and quality of weapons its possesses, as well as the nuclear arsenal at least nominally under its control.
It is not entirely clear to me what Russia stands to gain from feeding the chaos. Maybe chaos itself is the end. Maybe establishing geopolitical relevance in areas the U.S. has more or less abanonded is appealing. But, as Chechnya should have shown, any dealing with radical Islam is bound to be a losing, bloody proposition.
Bout’s recent exploits in Somalia-flying in at last two IL-76 loads of weapons for the most radical, Taliban-like regime in the world-could not take place without the explicit blessing of senior Russian military intelligence officials, using allies to do the actual deals. But the sales and meddling are not independent of the Russian military establishment, often fronted by quasi-official companies that sell weapons to a large list of unofficial Russian state clients.
The weak but official government of Somalia has formally protested the proxy arming of Eritrea, the tiny country that separated from Ethiopia and likely to be a staging area for the Islamist forces in Somalia. The weapons are being delivered are from the former Soviet bloc, by Russian pilots and trainers. This confrontation will become particularly unpleasant if Ethiopia decides that having an Islamist neighbor similar to the Taliban is not to its liking a we have a reprise of the Ertiea-Ethiopia war of the late 1990s that killed tens of thousands of people.
Russian (and Chinese) weapons sales to Iran do not happen by accident. They occur with the full knowledge that these weapons would end up with either a rogue Islamist regime or a proxy army of that regime.
The same can be said for the weapons deliveries to Somalia. Aircraft filled with tens of tons of weapons do not miraculously fall from the sky to Islamist militants bent on expanding and consolidating their regime. More such weapons are on their way, intelligence sources say. It might be time to ask who is supplying the weapons and why.