Moscow’s New Arms Bazaar

As the cold war began to wind down in the late 1980s, the Kremlin turned to the problem of steering the USSR’s economy away from its heavy emphasis on producing military hardware, with the aim of making consumer goods more widely available to Soviet citizens. A conversion program announced by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988, however, yielded little more than a precipitous decline in industrial production-a decline that only gained momentum after the abortive attempt by old-guard Communists to seize power in August 1991.

Upon the Soviet Union’s final collapse at the end of that year, therefore, a desperate economic situation greeted the Kremlin’s new Russian masters, compelling them, in early 1992, to seek financial help from arms sales abroad. In its time, the Soviet regime traded weapons largely for political influence; the new Russian regime prefers to exchange them for cash or commodities. Virtually everything is being offered for sale-to virtually anyone willing and able to pay. The only exceptions: weapons of mass destruction and certain categories of missiles.

But, despite the overall consensus on the need for this expedient, the various institutional and bureaucratic players involved are approaching the task with varying degrees of enthusiasm and with significantly different agendas. As a result, they spend as much time fighting each other as they do trying to make room for Russian weapons on the international arms market. Who are these players, and what do they hope to gain?

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