Cameron claims export licenses allowing UK arms sales to Russia don’t breach embargo

    Updated: March 19, 2017 at 11:48 am EST  See Comments

    Prime Minister,  David Cameron, denies the UK has breached the government's arms embargo on UK arms sales to Russia. (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

    The embargo was enacted “with immediate effect” on March 18 by then-Foreign Secretary William Hague.

    Heated criticism of British arms deals with Russia emerged after a group of MPs revealed over 200 licenses allowing the sale of British military equipment to the Russian Federation. These revelations surfaced in a report published on Wednesday, conducted by four separate House of Commons committees.

    The Committee on Arms Export Controls’ hard-hitting review contradicted a public statement by David Cameron on July 21. The Prime Minister had indicated the government had enforced an absolute arms embargo against Russia.

    Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Cameron called for an outright EU-wide ban on arms sales to Russia, claiming such an embargo was already in place in Britain.

    “Future military sales from any country in Europe should not be going ahead,” the Prime Minister told Westminster MPs. “We have already stopped them from Britain,” he claimed.

    But the Commons committees’ report contradicted Cameron’s claims. The review carefully scrutinized controls on Britain’s arms exports to Russia, revealing 251 export licenses for the sale of controlled goods to the Russia Federation worth approximately £132m.

    The report confirmed a mere 31 licenses covering UK arms sales to Russia had been suspended or revoked, while the Russian Federation had only been banned as a permitted export destination in three cases since the embargo, announced by Hague, was enacted.

    According to the committees’ findings Britain is selling equipment for controlling and launching missiles, components for military aircraft and rockets, sniper rifles, small arms ammunition, body armor, military communications technology, night sights for weapons and certain missiles.

    Despite vehement criticism following the report, the government insists the terms of its embargo on arms exports to Russia has not been compromised or contravened.

    “I believe that we have been consistent with the terms of the arms embargo that we set out, which was principally aimed at Russian armed forces and the use of goods and involvement in Ukraine. But we’ll look very carefully at all outstanding licenses to make sure that’s the case and of course if it is not the case then we will want to act very, very swiftly,” Cameron said.

    The Chair of the Committee on Arms Export Controls Sir John Stanley, said the few terminated licenses reflected the “circumscribed” terms of the embargo, which only referenced equipment that could be used against Ukraine. Russia’s wider defense requirements remained unaffected, he cautioned.

    Sir John has written to Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, inquiring whether the Government had compromised or broadened their policy of exporting arms to Russia.

    “We need to know what the Government policy is. The situation in eastern Ukraine has got worse and of course we have this appalling tragedy of the Malaysian airliner”, he said.

    Stanley concluded that a more cautious policy with respect to UK-Russian arms deals is required.

    Previously, Britain’s new Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, said Britain does not export arms to Russia “that could be used for internal repression.”

    Fallon claimed Britain has “one of the strictest arms sales policies in the world. We don’t sell arms to countries that might use them internally, or might use them to cause regional instability.”

    But MPs have called for stricter controls on weapons sales to “authoritarian regimes” – emphasizing that over 3,000 export licenses for arms deals worth £12bn have been approved for 28 states criticized by the UK’s Foreign Office for their unacceptable human rights records.

    Such states include Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sri Lanka.

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