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Russia to Sell S-300s to Iran

Michael Johnson

Russian leaders announced Monday that they would lift a moratorium on delivering an advanced surface-to-air missile system to Iran. Officials in Moscow could sell S-300 missile batteries (commonly exported as the Antey-2500) to Tehran this year, even though a final nuclear deal has not been reached.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that delivering the S-300s was initiated in a “spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations” over Tehran’s nuclear program. The Kremlin attempted to allay concerns over the legality of the move by saying that purely defensive technologies were not covered by sanctions currently in place. However, in 2012, the Kremlin indeed used UN sanctions as the excuse to cancel a $800 million contract with Tehran to deliver five S-300 missile batteries. Specifically, the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 in 2010 banned the sale of eight categories of conventional weapons to Iran, including “missiles or missile systems.

A Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missile launcher and radar array. (Photo: World Bulletin)

The U.S. and European allies voiced disapproval over Russia’s decision, but Israel could be the most affected. Following the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Russian President Vladimir Putin to express the Jewish State’s “dismay” over the S-300’s future delivery. The missiles will pose a significant “challenge for an air force to overcome,” according to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Asaf Agmon, who leads a defense research firm in Israel. Pilots with the IDF or U.S. military will find it harder to attack fortified nuclear sites in Iran with the delivery of the S-300s.

But ultimately, President Putin is more interested in gaining influence in the region than providing stability or fundamentally changing the balance of power among the Middle East nations. Over the past few months, Moscow has engaged Egypt and Pakistan, selling arms and improving trade relations, as a way to gain leverage among other powers.