The German government banned sales of arms classed as “weapons of war” – including nuclear, biological and chemical weapons – to Russia in January 2000, but that has not stopped German firms exporting tens of millions of euros of other military equipment each year.
In 2012, the Economics Ministry granted 450 licenses to export military gear worth €40.4 million to Russia, according to the German government’s Military Equipment Report. Over the same period it denied 18 arms export licenses to the country.
The report, first published in November 2013, describes sales to Russia of equipment including rifles, pistols, a “mobile command and control operations centre”, communication and navigation equipment, trucks, armoured vehicles and spare parts.
Germany also allowed companies to sell €325,124 worth of rifle bullets to Russia in the same year.
Russia analyst Lilit Gevorgyan from London-based IHS Global Insight told The Local the arms deals were just one example of how much Russia needed western countries to help it modernize.
“Russia has been developing into the global economy for the past two decades and it is only natural that trade relations would expand into military trading,” she said.
But she added those relations could end if tensions in eastern Ukraine continue to escalate. “It is difficult to see how the German government would explain their military trade with Russia,” Gevorgyan said.
A €120-million deal signed in 2011 between German arms firm Rheinmetall and the Russian military has proved the most controversial with Germany's western allies.
Düsseldorf-based Rheinmetall had been due to complete a combat simulation training centre in southwest Russia this year with the capacity to train 30,000 troops a year.
The deal was put on hold by the German government at the end of March in light of the Ukraine crisis. Yet this has failed to quell American suspicions that Russian special forces recently deployed in Crimea had already benefited in some way from German training.
And according to military export reports, the Rheinmetall deal is just one part of German military dealings with Russia.
In 2011, Germany also granted 438 arms export licenses to Russia and denied seven.
“People are pissed,” one US intelligence official was quoted as telling US news site The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
A senior Senate aide also told The Daily Beast: “It’s unfortunate that German companies were directly supporting and training Russia’s military even during the attacks against Ukraine.
“The US government should call on our Nato allies to suspend all military connections with Russia at this point, until the Russians leave Ukraine, including Crimea.”
The US Embassy in Berlin declined to comment on the reports of American anger with Germany when asked by The Local on Wednesday.
A German Foreign Office statement accompanying the military export reports said the government “pursues a responsible and restrictive licensing policy” regarding arms.
“In contrast to practices in a number of other countries, Germany does not treat arms exports as an instrument of foreign policy. Decisions on arms exports are taken after careful consideration of external, security and human rights aspects,” it said.
Back in 2012, a US congressional report warned that arms sales to Russia could pose a risk to security. However, Germany appears to have dismissed these concerns.
“French, German, and Italian officials stress that recent military sales to Russia should be viewed as a logical step in advancing a broader political goal of strategic partnership with Russia,” the 2012 report said.