MOSCOW, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- The Athens authorities have decided to buy 415 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles from Russia.
Greece is a NATO member, and so its decision to buy military equipment in Russia could be seen as sensational. However, it is not the first time Greece has bought weapons from Russia.
Nearly all of its air defense system consists of Russian-made weapons, such as the portable Igla missile system, the Osa-AKM, Tor-M1 and Buk-M1-2 short- and medium-range systems, and the S-300PMU-1.
Moreover, Greece also has the Russian-made Fagot and Kornet antitank guided missile systems, and the world's largest military hovercraft, Zubr -- NATO reporting name Pomornik.
But this time Greece is buying many infantry fighting vehicles for more than 1.2 billion euros, or around $1.8 billion.
Why has it decided to buy Russian military equipment? How will the NATO headquarters in Brussels react to the news, especially since it demands that the bloc member states buy compatible weapons?
Most importantly, what will the United States, displeased that Athens is again buying Russian rather than American weapons, do?
To begin with, the Greeks have used Russian-made military equipment for a long time and it has never malfunctioned during tactical exercises or combat operations. Reliability is a very serious factor for such sensitive and expensive goods as weapons. Besides, Russian weapons, which have comparable combat characteristics with their foreign analogues, are 25 percent cheaper in terms of price and maintenance; so one can buy five systems for the price of four.
One more thing is that Russia, unlike Washington, has never imposed economic sanctions on foreign countries or companies that displease it. For example, the United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela because it dislikes its current president, Hugo Chavez, who regularly does things that irritate the White House.
The United States has refused to supply spare parts and components for the American-made F-16 fighters, actually forcing Venezuela to buy Russia's Su-30 Flanker-C.
Caracas has oil and petrodollars. Athens does not. What would it do in a similar situation? Try to please Washington all the time? Although it is a NATO member, it is also a sovereign country and so will not opt for such behavior. Therefore, Athens has chosen a military-technical partner who is reliable and has a predictable foreign policy, i.e., Russia. This is an additional guarantee of military security.
What will Brussels say about Athens' new deal with Russia? It will most likely be pressured by Washington and so will say that the 100-mm gun of the BMP-3 does not correspond to NATO standards. There are no such calibers in the NATO countries.
But Russia has pledged to supply enough rounds for the gun to last a long time, both in training and actual warfare. The same is true about the 30-mm rapid-fire gun coupled with the vehicle's main gun, and the 7.62-mm Kalashnikov machine gun, which can be replaced by a Russian-made machine gun using 5.56-mm rounds that conform to the NATO standard.
The main attraction of the BMP-3 is that its 100-mm semiautomatic gun/missile launcher is stabilized in two axles and can fire either high explosive fragmentation rounds or antitank guided missiles. No NATO country produces such guns.
The BMP-3 communication systems can be easily replaced with NATO equipment.
The Greek air defense system, which consists mainly of Russian-made weapons, has been adjusted to the bloc's standards, and there have been no communication problems during joint exercises and training. Finally, Washington will most likely be displeased with Athens' acquisition of the S-300 instead of the U.S.-made Patriot-3 advanced capability missile system.
At the turn of the 21st century, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and the Turkish government put incredible pressure on Athens to buy the Patriot system. Turkey was infuriated that its neighbor, with whom it was not especially friendly, would have such a powerful and effective air defense system as Russia's S-300.
Athens managed to uphold its interests then. It has deployed the S-300 systems on Crete and Russian acquisition and tracking radars on Cyprus, a sovereign state that maintains very close relations with Greece. We can assume that the Athens authorities have considered all the possible foreign policy and economic consequences of their latest decision.
Cyprus was the first Mediterranean country to buy the BMP-3. It bought 43 systems in the mid-1990s and they remain on combat duty to this day. This is more proof of their reliability. Greece had enough time to study the advantages and drawbacks of the system before deciding to buy 415 vehicles.
Greece may sign the relevant military-technical contract with Russia during the Moscow visit of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis on Dec. 17-19.
(Nikita Petrov is a military commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)
(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)