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Sechin as Russia’s New Viktor Bout?

viktorbout091909.jpgDid you know that Igor Sechin allegedly worked with the famous arms dealer Viktor Bout back in Mozambique in the 1980s?  Neither did I, but you probably already know we have been watching all these orders coming for more Russian tanks from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez while at the same time more and more FARC links to Caracas are surfacing.  It’s just so strange to think that the key individual who somehow allegedly ties together Russian weapons to the Venezuelans and then onward to FARC is in a Thai jail, where, apparently, the authorities are under the impression that FARC is not even a terrorist organization but rather a political party.  According to this editorial in the Washington Post, the Russian government have been pushing the Thais very hard not to extradite Bout to the United States, where his trial could spill some serious secrets.  In fact, he stands a good chance of being set free, as Thai judges seem to respond well to offers of cheap oil, fighter jets, and the classic, straight up bribe.

At any rate, here is a beginner’s guide from Ariel Cohen and Owen B. Graham in the Washington Times:

The framework for the arms deal was partially laid during Russian deputy premier and energy czar Igor Sechin’s visit to Caracas in July. During Mr. Sechin’s trip, a number of wide-ranging cooperation accords covering energy, military and agricultural cooperation were signed. Mr. Sechin’s trip was intended to prepare the ground for Mr. Chavez’s upcoming visit to Moscow.

Mr. Sechin, the head of the siloviki (men of power), has emerged as Russia’s point man on global energy geopolitics. He graduated from Leningrad State University (Vladimir Putin’s alma mater) in 1984 as a linguist in Portuguese and French. In the 1980s, Mr. Sechin worked in Mozambique and in Angola, officially as an interpreter, but according to numerous intelligence sources, he was a Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye (GRU) officer there.

Geopolitical information service Stratfor claims that Mr.Sechin was “the USSR’s point man for weapons smuggling to much of LatinAmerica and the Middle East.” He reportedly served with well-knowninternational arms dealer Viktor Bout in Mozambique in the 1980s.

Russia uses arms sales to gain friends and influencegovernments. Weapons are a key component of the Kremlin’s relationshipwith Venezuela. This deal builds on previous arms sales worth $4.4billion signed between 2005 and 2007, which included advanced Sukhoifighter jets, combat helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, plusa whole factory to produce more.

Besides capitalizing on arms and energy as foreign-policytools, Venezuelan and Russian leaders are among the trendsetters in thedemocracy rollback taking place since the late 1990s. The rulers ofRussia and Venezuela are increasingly rejecting civil society, muzzlingor manipulating the media, and narrowing political space in theirrespective countries. Recently, Mr. Chavez cracked down on oppositionradio stations. Both governments have mounted sustained attacks on therule of law, and limited market access to keep out international energycompanies.

Their statist efforts are excessively strengthening the state,limiting political freedoms, expanding geopolitical clout, andthreatening American friends. It may be time for the State Departmentto declare Venezuela a terrorist-sponsoring state. Both Russia andVenezuela are among Iran’s principal supporters and have contacts withHezbollah and Hamas.