Bahrain Rewards Assad’s Arms Supplier With New Contract
By Brian Dooley
Yesterday’s news that the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) has signed another contract with the Russian state-owned arms dealer, Rosoboronexport, is a further depressing sign that Bahrain is intent on feeding its appetite for military hardware, even if the source is directly responsible for Assad’s atrocities in Syria.
The Bahrain state news agency gave no details of the deal beyond reporting that it will “will help to enhance Bahrain’s defence capabilities through the provision of an advanced defence system,” and that “this agreement comes as part of the ongoing working visit of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Supreme Commander to the Russian Federation at the invitation of Russian Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev.”
In January 2014 the Bahrain Crown Prince announced a $20 million donation from his government to relieve the plight of Syrian refugees. Yet Rosoboronexport has for years been fuelling the conflict in Syria as the main weapons supplier for Bashar al-Assad. The Pentagon has said that Russian-supplied weapons have been used to kill Syrian civilians. Activists estimate that over 150,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced by the fighting since widespread protests broke out against the Assad dictatorship in early 2011. This year, the Russian company stepped up its military lifeline to the Assad regime, reportedly providing drones and guided bombs.
Human Rights First has been calling for several years for the U.S. government to end its own relationship with the Russian arms dealers, who supply the U.S. with helicopters for use in Afghanistan.
In November 2013 the U.S. Department of Defense canceled plans for a $345 million purchase of 15 additional helicopters from Rosoboronexport, but it has not put an end to contracts with the arms suppliers. And while on Monday The White House announced sanctions against top Russian officials in response to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, including Sergey Chemezov, former head of Rosoboronexport, the U.S. has still not ended its relationship with the company. The U.S. government introduced sanctions on Rosoboronexport in 2006 after allegations that the company aided Iran’s nuclear program, but they were lifted by the Obama administration four years later.
Bahrain reportedly turned to the Russian arms suppliers for the first time in August 2011 after the U.K. and France banned some weapons sales to Bahrain following its violent crackdown on protestors. Rosoboronexport is said to have sold the BDF weapons including AK103 Kalashnikovs with grenade launchers and ammunition at an estimated cost of tens of millions of dollars.
For all of their talk of the need for regional stability, by rewarding Assad’s main arms supplier with contracts the governments of Bahrain and the U.S. are supporting those who enable mass atrocities in the Syrian conflict.