As the United Nations deadline passed Monday for Sudan to disarm Arab militiamen accused of genocide in Darfur, analysts say that Russia, which now holds the presidency of the Security Council, is not likely to lead the UN charge for sanctions against Khartoum.
Under pressure from Washington and some other Western capitals, Council members voted a month ago to consider punishing Sudan if it did not disarm and prosecute the janjaweed militia, which is allegedly responsible for a campaign in western Sudan that has left at least 30,000 dead and forced 1.4 million from their homes.
But Russia - which has used modest weapons sales, an oil deal, and closer ties with Sudan to bolster a broader presence in African markets - is not expected to focus on Khartoum's abuses.
And Russia is not alone: China, another permanent Council member, has closer ties with Sudan, and deep reservations about sanctions. Their opposition, along with that of Pakistan and Algeria, meant that the explicit threat of sanctions was removed from the first council vote.
The pattern was similar with Saddam Hussein's Iraq with which Moscow had far more lucrative arms and oil deals at stake. For Russia and China, it may all boil down to the pocketbook.
"China is deeply involved in Sudan, in oil export and transportation, and extraction," says Andrei Maslov, editor of Af-Ro: Russia-Africa Business Journal. "Russian companies are even subcontractors to the Chinese. The pipeline that will be built by Russians will be built for Chinese money, not Sudanese."
That's not the only deal. In late July - five months ahead of schedule and as the Council debate on Sudan sanctions raged - Moscow announced the final delivery of 12 MiG-29 jet fighters to Khartoum, to conclude a 2001 deal.
"Sudan is potentially a buyer in the future, and we don't have many buyers around," says Dmitri Trenin, a military expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "[Russia] is against sanctions primarily because those sanctions make some people happy, and they hurt Russian trade."
The UN is expected to hear a report on Sudan's efforts to rein in the janjaweed Tuesday, and debate sanctions Thursday.
Few expect Russia will get in the way of a sanctions vote against Sudan, if one comes up and has widespread support. China, which is the leading foreign investor in Sudan, with an annual trade value of roughly $1 billion, according to the Xinhua New Agency, has much more to lose.
For Moscow, the use of UN sanctions is broader than Sudan, which is why it doesn't want to lead this diplomatic fight. "This isn't really about Sudan, which is not a significant customer," says Pavel Baev, a Russia military analyst at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. "Russia is taking a line against sanctions ... to reduce the usability of this whole instrument of the UN to the absolute minimum - especially sanctions on arms."
The strict rules against arms sales to Iraq, in place since the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, were a salutary lesson for Russia, as it sought fresh arms markets after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Russia was several times on the eve of breaking out of the [Iraq] sanctions regime," says Mr. Baev. "There is a suspicion that in many instances in the near future, it is those regimes, which might be labeled [by the US] as new members of the 'axis of evil,' that Russia might be interested in doing business with."
Russia does big business on the international arms market. Second after the US, last year it sold $5.4 billion worth of military hardware to buyers like India and China. Russia and Sudan signed a military-technical cooperation agreement in 2002, making clear that they had at least one thing in common: a fight against "terrorists." Each is involved in a civil war - Sudan's against separatist southern rebels, and Russia's against separatist guerrillas in Chechnya.
Russian defense chief Sergei Ivanov promised that Moscow would "effect a cheap all-round modernization of Sudan's Soviet and Russian-made hardware." Russia could act, Mr. Ivanov said, because "no sanctions were imposed."
The agreement was part of a wider Russian strategy begun in November 2001 to "reestablish partnerships with long-standing clients" and "penetrate" the new African markets, notes a report last year by Oxford Analytica.
But experts say the Sudan relationship so far has been "small change." An apparent 2002 deal to assemble Russian tanks in Sudan fell through, as did a $200 million oil-field plan inked with the state-owned Slavneft oil company that year.
A new deal with Russian company Stroitransgaz to build an oil pipeline was announced in July. But the MiG-29 sale - decried by human rights groups that say it worsens the crisis in western Sudan - has not been easy.
"The [payment] scheme has been very complicated, very tough on MiG, and not extremely lucrative," says Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, about the $150 million sale. "But at that time, MiG was in extremely deep crisis, and they grabbed at any contract they could take."
Sudan has received a "primitive" version of the MiG that can be used almost exclusively as an interceptor aircraft for which it is "almost impossible ... to bomb the ground," says Mr. Pukhov.
There may be another reason Russia wants to avoid sanctions, he says. "These sanctions [Tuesday] can be used as a loophole for the Sudanese not to pay us."