American army reversals in pursing the Iraqi "Blitzkrieg" are mutely resented in Washington. The White House is looking for causes of its strategic and tactical blunders not in miscalculations when preparing the Shock and Awe operation, nor in the political and military underestimation of the defence capabilities of Baghdad and its forces, but, as is their wont in such cases, in secondary and tertiary circumstances, which, all of a sudden, if only for propaganda purposes, become the most salient and move almost to the foreground.
One of such circumstances was Russian weaponry used by Iraqi units. Last weekend the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Yuri Ushakov, was summoned to the Department of State and handed a note of protest. The note claims that over the past year, Russian private companies have sold to Iraq anti-tank missiles and shells, night-vision devices and electronic equipment able to lead astray American aircraft, cruise and self-homing missiles. All these deals, the note asserts, were done in violation of UN sanctions.
"Such equipment may pose a direct threat to the Coalition's armed forces," says the protest note. "Russia has the last chance to stop supplies". Otherwise Washington would be compelled to take adequate measures.
And although, as claimed by news agencies, the note does not point a finger at concrete Russian defence firms breaching UN sanctions, some are named in the American Washington Post and the British Financial Times - Tula Design Office of Instrument Building (KBP) and Aviakonversia.
Aviakonversia designs and manufactures active jamming stations to suppress receivers of satellite navigational systems used by the Americans to guide cruise missiles and other high-precision weapons. Its director, Oleg Antonov, has said in a RIA Novosti interview that "we supplied no equipment to Iraq," and that "the Iraqis could develop such devices by their own efforts or purchase in third countries".
That such equipment could be assembled by the Iraqis themselves was confirmed to this RIA Novosti defence analyst at the Russian Aerospace Agency and at the Russian Agency for Control Systems, which has special enterprises producing electronic warfare devices.
As regards the Tula KBP, it indeed supplies to world arms markets anti-tank guided projectiles or, as they have been recently termed, anti-tank guided missiles. The most famous among them are Shmel, Fagot, Konkurs, Metis, Kornet and their versions, the supersonic missile Vikhr for helicopters, controlled by radio and laser beam and also by infra-red light, able to penetrate armour up to one metre thick, equipped with explosive reactive armour and having a range of up to 4 kilometres in daytime and 3.5 kilometres at night.
The KBP also produces Pantsyr air-defence missile and cannon systems, fast-firing ship guns able, for example, to cut a missile motor-boat into two in a matter of minutes, a turret cannon for the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle, Krasnopol laser-illumined guided artillery shells to fit NATO's 155 mm calibre and excellent small arms - pistols, machine pistols, automatic rifles and machine guns, noiseless sniper automatic rifles and large-calibre sniper rifles.
The Tula company sells weapons to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Syria, India and other countries. It is one of the several Russian firms allowed to export its products without intermediaries, including Rosoboronexport.
Vasily Gryazev, deputy general designer of the firm, noted in an interview with this correspondent that the US accusations against his company are untrue, to say the least. "This is a very dishonourable attempt, if not more, to freeze out from world arms markets a competent rival whose weapons in many respects are much more effective than what is offered by American firms," he said.
And besides, "the KBP is not a private, but a state-controlled enterprise, Gryazev said. "All our foreign contracts are carefully vetted by various competent bodies and not a single piece of combat equipment or weapons goes abroad without clearance from the government, the Committee on Military Technical Cooperation with foreign countries under the Defence Ministry and other organisations. We have never violated any UN sanctions, nor have we bypassed any. This wouldn't pay off anyway." Furthermore, American complaints against the KBP and other Russian weapons firms show up an attempt to justify their suddenly heavy losses in men and materiel by the fact that they are opposed by Russian weapons, he said. "For us it is good advertising, especially considering that Iraq has sufficiently obsolete weapons of Soviet make, after ten years of no supplies." According to a competent publication, The Military Balance 2002-2003, issued by the London Institute of Strategic Studies, the Iraqi army is indeed equipped with old Soviet-made combat materiel - T-55, T-62 and T-72 tanks (of the latter there are only 700), 1,200 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, 122 D-30 howitzers, Gvozdika and Akatsia self-propelled artillery units - about 200, and several hundred anti-tank guided missiles, which include not only Soviet-made but also foreign-made models. In particular, the Milan missile. And that American troops suffer losses from these arms is evidence, according to military specialists, that their assault on Baghdad was insufficiently well prepared. They have just underestimated the opponent and the degree of his readiness to resist.