Russia Appears Ready To Deliver Sophisticated Anti-Aircraft System To Iran
With the Iran nuclear deal in place and sanctions being slowly lifted, Russia is announcing that a stalled weapons deal with Tehran is moving forward:
MOSCOW — Russia’s most senior arms executive said Monday that a contract to supply Iran with powerful S-300 air defense missiles was now active. But with no delivery date or any other details, the announcement seemed aimed more at warding off an Iranian lawsuit than a major step toward delivery of the weapon system.
Sergei V. Chemezov, Russia’s chief arms trade executive, made the announcement at an air show in Dubai, Russian news agencies reported.
“The contract to deliver the S-300 was not only signed by both sides, but has already come into force,” Mr. Chemezov was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
The initial contract to deliver the weapons was signed in 2007, before the current international arms embargo against Iran was established. But the contract was canceled in 2010 by Dmitri A. Medvedev, then the president of Russia, under pressure from the United States and Israel, though the Kremlin portrayed it as an act of good will.
In response, Iran filed a lawsuit claiming breach of contract that could cost Moscow as much as five times the $800 million value of the original deal. President Vladimir V. Putin reversed Mr. Medvedev’s decision in April, as a nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers began to appear likely. But the system still has not been delivered.
In an apparent attempt to avoid the stiff fines, Russia has repeatedly claimed that delivery was imminent but failed to follow through, leading some analysts to conclude that it was just a stalling tactic.
The hitch, military experts say, is that Russia wants to keep the unfulfilled contract as a bargaining chip in its relations with the West, perhaps with an eye to ending economic sanctions imposed over its actions in Ukraine.
“Russia is trying to use this contract as a tool to pressure the West, so there is a continuous bargaining about it between Moscow, Tehran and other capitals,” said Aleksander M. Golts, an independent military analyst in Moscow.
The fact that the deal was delayed this long may indicate that Russia still might not actually deliver on the contract, or that it will provide a system that is somewhat less sophisticated than the S-300 system it uses itself. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the weapons sale might have gone through even without the nuclear deal if Russia had decided to allow it do so at some point in the future. Nonetheless, if it goes forward this sale has the potential to significantly upgrade Iran’s air defense system. Dave Majumdar has a decent summary of the capabilities of the S-300 system in a piece at The National Interest dealing with the question of whether or not Russia might deploy the system in Syria to provide additional air cover for the Assad regime, a move that really could only be aimed at making it more difficult for the West and/or Israel to go after the regime in Damascus. Suffice it to say that, if fully deployed, the system could make the areas it protects lethal to anything except the most advanced aircraft such as the F-35, which is only now beginning to enter active use.