Jordanian arms fair hosts Assad's main Russian weapons supplier
A Jordanian arms fair is hosting a Russian company responsible for the vast majority of weapons supplied to the Syrian government during the five-year war that has left up to half a million dead.
The inclusion of the state-owned Rosonboronexport in an event which is held under the patronage of Jordan's King Abdullah, and chaired by his brother Prince Feisal Bin al-Hussein, stands in contrast to Jordan’s official policy in Syria, which is opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad and supportive of the opposition.
The four-day Special Operations Forces Exhibition (SOFEX), which was opened on Monday by King Abdullah, takes place every two years in the Jordanian capital of Amman and regularly attracts thousands of visitors flocking to view wares offered by hundreds of defence and security companies.
A host of defence and security technologies are exhibited at the fair, which SOFEX says aims to attract “the world’s leading defence and ancillary companies to present pioneering and ground-breaking equipment, technologies and services in order to consolidate Jordan’s and SOFEX’s enviable position as the ‘Gateway to International Safety & Security'."
Coinciding with the event on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that his country's military technology had shown its worth during the conflict in Syria.
"Effectiveness and high quality of Russian weapons were clearly demonstrated in Syria... Aerospace Defence Forces and the Navy showed it in the best way," Putin said during a meeting in Sochi with military commanders and defence industry officials.
He acknowledged, however, that their had been some revelation of their "problems and shortcomings" as well.
The Russian state arms company said in a press release that its presence at the arms fair was designed to "showcase advanced Russian defence products designed to counter terrorism".
“At SOFEX, we have always put emphasis on weapons for special operations units," said Valery Varlamov, head of Rosoboronexport’s security department, who is leading the company delegation at SOFEX.
"However, given the scale of the regional challenges we face today and increased interest from foreign partners in Russian military hardware, we decided to expand the range of our exhibits. We offer weapons that will assuredly give the national security agencies an advantage over large, well-equipped and trained terrorist groups.”
Among the other events at SOFEX is the Warrior Competition during which a number of global teams take part in a “series of challenging events designed to test their skills and endurance” as a way of setting a “yardstick for unit performance, and exposes strengths, and/or potential weaknesses,” according to the competition’s website.
Russia’s "Counter Terrorism - Team 1" unit was the winner of the competition in 2015, just beating China and Jordan’s teams.
Andrew Smith, an activist with the UK organisation Campaign Against the Arms Trade, slammed the SOFEX event as a platform for “human rights abusers”.
"Events like Sofex bring some of the worst human rights abusers together with the world's biggest arms companies,” he told Middle East Eye. “They are designed for one reason only, and that is to maximise arms sales to anyone who will buy them.
“Many of the companies in attendance have profited from the destruction of Yemen, Gaza, Syria and beyond."
The presence of a Russian state-back arms company is likely to confuse observers who have seen Jordan and Russia officially supporting opposing sides in the Syrian war. However Jordan's stance regarding the conflict appears to have shifted recently, with fears about Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria apparently a growing concern for Jordan's king, and Turkish officials accusing King Abdullah of siding with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
In March, the Russian Kommersant newspaper reported that the “marketing effect” from Russian military involvement in Syria could lead to contracts worth $6bn to $7bn for the country, with Algeria, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan all looking to buy new Russian technologies.
The Rosonboronexport statement said that the companies "hold meetings with representatives of other countries in the region to discuss the prospects for joint projects" in addition to discussing plans with its "Jordanian partners".
Jordan has been heavily involved in sending supplies to opposition groups in Syria and the kingdom has influence over rebel groups in southern Syria, such as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army based around Daraa.
These groups have been repeatedly attacked by Russian jets and Russian-supplied equipment, with one Southern Front commander accusing the international community of giving Russia a "green light to kill the Syrian people as it pleases".
Russian air strikes have frequently struck targets in Deraa, with many civilians casualties.
Rosonboronexport is a frequent presence on the international arms fair circuit - its presence at the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEi) event in London was slammed by British MPs and activists who accused the British government, which is also officially opposed to both Russia's actions in Ukraine and Syria, of "hypocrisy".
Nineteen British arms companies are present at SOFOX, alongside official delegations from China, Turkey, the US, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia.
Smith noted the irony that arms sales appeared to cross geopolitical divides and apparently disregard official state policies.
“The fact that the Russian state arms company will be sharing space with the Ukrainian delegation tells you everything you need to know,” he said of SOFEX.