UK's Licenses For Arms Exports To Russia Continue To Remain Active: MPs

  on July 23 2014 8:55 AM
  • David Cameron
    Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens to a question during a news conference at Number 10 Downing Street in London on March 14, 2013. Reuters/Nick Ansell
  • mh17 debris
    An Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. reuters/Maxim Zmeyev
  • mh17 crash site
    A pro-Russian separatist stands at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 18, 2014. reuters/Maxim Zmeyev
  • Pro-Russian separatist Ukraine
    A pro-Russian separatist from the Vostok (East) battalion poses for a picture atop a T-64 tank in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev
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The UK has kept active licenses sanctioning arms exports to Russia, which include components for anti-aircraft guns, despite Moscow-backed separatists being suspected of downing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, according to a BBC report, citing members of parliament.

More than 250 UK licenses, worth at least $225 million, remain in force with only 31 licenses being halted or suspended, the report said. Permits covering the export of sniper rifles, night sights, and components for air-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, combat helicopters, depth charges, rocket launchers, small arms ammunition, gun mountings, body armor, military communications equipment and "equipment employing cryptography" are all still in force, the cross-party Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls reportedly said.

However, according to the prime minister's office, the UK has not sold arms to Russia’s armed forces since March, the report said, adding that David Cameron's spokesman has said the UK arms export licenses still in place for Russia are for "non-military legitimate reasons" only.

The government said all licenses were under review and the majority of licenses that remained in place were for "commercial use." The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said that some of the items, which included anti-aircraft guns, were for the Brazilian Navy, who would access the equipment at Russian ports.

"This government has never exported missiles or missile parts to the Russian military," he said. He went on to add that the licenses for rifles and ammunition covered hunting and sporting rifles meant for private individuals and authorized dealers for resale.

In March, former Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs: "The UK will now, with immediate effect, suspend all extant licenses and application processing for licenses for direct export to Russia for military and dual-use items destined for units of the Russian armed forces or other state agencies which could be or are being deployed against Ukraine."

Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP who heads the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls, said the small number of withdrawn licenses reflected poorly on the UK's stand on an international arms embargo against Russia, and went on to say that "Russia is an authoritarian regime. We should have been applying a more cautious approach for some time in regard to Russia."

Moscow's support for pro-Russian groups in Ukraine has been severely criticized after the fatal crash of Flight MH17, which is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

Cameron has strongly criticized European countries such as France, which reportedly have continued to pursue defense deals with Russia. France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday reportedly retorted by asking Britain to consider the number of Russian oligarchs living in London before criticizing France.

The committee also strongly criticized the issue of licenses, awarded by the previous Labour government, for the export of chemicals to Syria, which could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons, as well as two more licenses for sodium and potassium fluoride, issued by the current government, after the Syrian civil war had begun, the BBC report said.

A government spokesman reportedly said the UK aimed to operate the most robust and transparent export control system in the world, and that "every application is examined rigorously against internationally-recognized criteria and particular attention is paid to human rights risks" the report said.

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