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British MPs criticise arms sales to Russia despite sanctions call France and UK trade hypocrisy claims

LONDON, July 23, (Agencies): Lawmakers on Wednesday queried why Britain had granted licences to sell tens of millions of pounds worth of arms to Russia, embarrassing Prime Minister David Cameron, who has called for a Europe-wide ban on such sales because of the Ukraine crisis. The criticism, in a report compiled by four of parliament’s select committees, comes two days after the British leader said France’s sale of two helicopter carriers to Russia would be “unthinkable” in Britain. The government said in March it would stop some arms exports to Russia, but the report said that as of mid-May only 34 of 285 outstanding licences worth more than 131 million pounds ($223.41 million) had been suspended or revoked.

“We should have been applying a more cautious approach for some considerable time towards Russia,” said John Stanley, chairman of parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls. “Many people... given the nature of the Russian regime, will be wondering why it is the UK is giving export approval to a particular number of items on that list.”

A spokesman for Cameron said Britain had halted all arms exports destined for the Russian military, calling the ban “comprehensive”. He said licences for other users, such as hunting enthusiasts, had not been blocked, however. In a separate statement, a government spokesman said it had never approved the export of missiles or missile parts to the Russian military, despite suggestions from local media that it had. Nor had it approved licences for the export of rifles or ammunition to the Russian military, he said.
Meanwhile, Britain and France are trading accusations of hypocrisy over sanctions against Russia in a row that reveals deeper European divisions on how to react to the MH17 disaster, analysts said Wednesday. The “Entente Cordiale” entered one of its less cordial phases this week, with Britain slamming France’s 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) warship deal with Moscow, and Paris saying London remains a haven for Russian oligarchs.
The row grew Wednesday when a parliamentary report revealed Britain had granted a series of lucrative arms export licences to Russia even as it was criticising its European partners for doing the same.
Experts said the Anglo-French dispute would blow over, but warned it was a symptom of a wider malaise in the European Union as all 28 nations insist the burden of sanctions against Russia must be equally shared. “We can see tensions in the EU over sanctions, which are inevitable given each country has a different relationship with Russia,” Sarah Lain, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London, told AFP.
“France is really against breaking this contract, it would harm French interests a lot more than Russian interests. Then the British parliamentary report has drawn attention to the fact that France is not the only one in Europe who has a defence relationship with Moscow.” Despite US pressure to get tough with Moscow over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine, EU foreign ministers on Tuesday agreed only to slightly widen sanctions and look at a possible arms embargo.
But a wider debate about European inaction has degenerated into a Franco-British slanging match, centred on Paris’s reluctance to scupper the deal to sell two Mistral helicopter warships to Russia.
President Francois Hollande has said delivery of the first warship will go ahead in October as planned but handing over of the second would depend on “Russia’s attitude”. British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that “in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have” — as well as criticising Germany and Italy for Russian arms sales.

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