Russia says US is trying to 'squeeze out' competitors in the global arms trade

Andrew Buncombe, Chris Stevenson

Moscow has accused the US of trying to “squeeze out” competitors in the global arms trade, after Washington imposed sanctions on China for buying Russian fighter jets.

The US on Thursday blacklisted 33 Russian nationals and three entities in a new round of sanctions over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. One of the companies was an aircraft-making factory in Russia’s Far East.

At the same time, Washington announced sanctions against China’s military for its purchase of Russian planes and missile systems. It said that in doing so, China had breached a wide-ranging sanctions law designed to punish Russia for its alleged election interference, something Moscow has repeatedly denied.

On Friday, Russia hit back, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accusing the US of trying to squeeze out competitors in the global arms trade.

Mr Peskov called the new sanctions hostile and unpredictable but did not say how Russia would respond. “They use this practice so often that one would trip up reacting to each new instance,” he said.

The penalties were applied under a law that requires the US to sanction anyone undertaking significant transactions with people affiliated with Russian intelligence and military services, including arms manufacturers. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also expanded that blacklist on Thursday, adding the names of 33 Russians to bring the total roster to 72 people.

“Today’s actions are not intended to undermine the military capabilities or combat readiness of any country, but rather to impose costs on Russia in response to its interference in the United States election process, its unacceptable behaviour in eastern Ukraine, and other malign activities,” the state department said in a statement.

Mr Pompeo, in consultation with treasury secretary Stephen Mnuchin, imposed sanctions on the Chinese military’s equipment development department and its director, Li Shangfu, for purchasing Su-35 combat aircraft and a S-400 surface-to-air missile system.

“The ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia,” a senior Trump administration official told journalists.

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that it wanted the penalties withdrawn, while Russia accused Washington of undermining “global stability”.

In Moscow, Russian member of parliament Franz Klintsevich said the sanctions would not affect the S-400 and SU-35 contracts.

“I am sure that these contracts will be executed in line with the schedule,” Mr Klintsevich was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency. “The possession of this military equipment is very important for China.”

China now relies less on large purchases from Russia than it has in the past, but Chinese defence industries often expertise from Russia and ex-Soviet states to plug knowledge gaps

China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning training ship, is based on a Soviet Kuznetsov-class hull but Beijing has since developed its own, home-grown carrier. The Type 001A is currently undergoing trials.

The measures come as the Trump administration pursues a variety of strategies to clamp down on China and faces growing pressure to respond strongly to US intelligence agency reports that Russia continues to meddle in US politics.

Members of Congress, including many of Mr Trump’s fellow Republicans, who passed the sanctions bill nearly unanimously, have repeatedly called on the administration to take a harder line against Moscow.