A group of Russian navy officials were caught trying to smuggle $18 million worth of anti-submarine and aviation missiles into China, although the level of official involvement in both countries remains unknown.  The cargo was found in Tajikistan, where Russia maintains a military base.

  Tajikistan, whose porous borders make it an often used smuggling corridor for drugs coming out of Afghanistan, shares a boundary with China along the Pamir mountains.  Reuters:

“A few days ago we sent material to start criminal proceedings against navy officials and some businessmen who brought 30 contraband anti-submarine missiles and 200 aviation bombs into Tajikistan for onward sale to China for $18 million,” Russia’s chief military prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, said.

China is actively seeking to build its own aircraft carriers, and to counter these Taiwan desires new submarines, the standard aircraft carrier deterrent, to add to its dated fleet of only four such vessels.  While the U.S. rejected a Taiwanese request for submarines in a huge $6.4 billion arms sale in October, it appears China is continuing with efforts to acquire defense systems for its future carriers.  In addition to strengthening SCO ties last year, Russia and China greatly improved relations on the energy front last week also.

With arms control being cited as a potential area for progress in U.S.-Russia relations under the new administration, the uncovering of this smuggling operation could become a serious setback.  Moreover, it doesn’t help that Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear company Rosatom, said after a visit to Iran today that the country’s Russian-assisted Bushehr nuclear power plant is now complete.  Neither the missile discovery nor assistance to Iranian nuclear programs is welcome news for joint U.S.-Russia arms control efforts.

Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.