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Britain still exporting arms to Russia

Britain is still exporting arms and military equipment to Russia, according to a parliamentary report released on Wednesday just hours after Prime Minister David Cameron rapped France for selling weapons to Moscow.

LONDON: Britain is still exporting arms and military equipment to Russia, according to a parliamentary report released Wednesday just hours after Prime Minister David Cameron rapped France for selling weapons to Moscow.

Cameron has urged the EU to ban military sales to Russia -- accused of equipping and training separatists in eastern Ukraine -- and said on Monday Britain had already halted such arms exports. The British government promised in March to stop military sales to Russia.

However, the report found 251 licences were still in place for the sale to Russia of controlled goods worth at least £132 million ($225 million, 167 million euro).

The licences allowed exports such as sniper rifles, small arms ammunition, body armour, military communications equipment, night sights, and "equipment employing cryptography", the report said.

Just 31 licences had been suspended or revoked, while on three others Russia was no longer permitted as an export destination, the report found.

Cameron has taken a tough stance against Moscow, which has come under fire after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was allegedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people.

Russia has already been hit with Western sanctions for its role in a protracted crisis in ex-Soviet state Ukraine and is facing more still over the MH17 disaster. Both Washington and London have questioned France's decision to maintain 1.2 billion euro ($1.6 billion) deal to provide Russia with two warships.

Cameron said it would be "unthinkable" for Britain to supply warships to Russia and said no European country should sell arms to Russia. However, the parliamentary report by the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls appeared to contradict government claims.

"Russia is an authoritarian regime. We should have been applying a more cautious approach for some time in regard to Russia," said John Stanley, chairman of the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls.

The committee also criticised the granting of export licenses to Syria for chemicals which could allow it to make chemical weapons. A government spokesman denied that arms restrictions had been softened.

"The majority of export licences that remain in place for Russia are for commercial use but we are keeping all licences under review," the spokesman said. "The UK aims to operate one of the most robust and transparent export control systems in the world. Every application is examined rigorously against internationally recognised criteria."

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