Russia Appears Ready To Deliver Sophisticated Anti-Aircraft System To Iran

Iran Nukes

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.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    Expect screaming from the usual suspects.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    It would be logical to expect deployment of advanced anti-air systems in Syria when the primary reason for Russian intervention was to stop the U.S. from establishing a no-fly zone.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    I guess Putin has chosen sides in the Shia-Sunni disputes. I suspect it will have repercussions among the Muslims within Russia’s sphere of influence, few of which are Shia.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    I find it hard to believe the Iranians would put this system at risk in Syria rather than use it for defense of Iran. At the link they say US F22s and B2s can penetrate this system. If we can penetrate, we can destroy, so other, less stealthy planes can attack. So we can attack Iran. But Israel can’t without huge support from us. An acceptable situation. Of course this assumes the Russians ever actually deliver.

  5. Lounsbury says:

    I would not.
    Outside of the Gulf region and places where Gulf agitators actively work (e.g. Af-Pak) most Sunnis don’t really care that much about the issue.

    The Great Shia Sunni split is really a Gulf-Arab versus Persia split, and more about ethnic-power politics in that region than anything else.

  6. Mu says:

    The idea that you can take out a mobile missile system with US based aircraft is pretty far fetched, especially in some kind of wild weasel mission to suppress air defenses for a conventional strike. The US only has 20 B2 to begin with, and they’re 25 years old. I highly doubt the air force wants to find out the hard way if the Russians developed a counter to that plane in that time interval.

  7. Slugger says:

    This is being done to “ward off an Iranian lawsuit”? Does that sound crazy to the rest of you?
    BTW, I would not worry too much about Russian GTA missiles. I am sure that a million dollars and a couple of bottles of vodka will buy the abort codes from a mid level technician.

  8. Matt says:

    The s-300 and some older systems can easily hit the f-35. The Yugoslav army easily shot down a f-117 with an ancient and “obsolete” s-125 system.

    Anyone who thinks that the f-35 is immune to the s-300 is delusional or being paid to say so. The f-35’s stealth isn’t that good and the IR signature is freaking huge.

    Iran’s current missile defense is good enough to take out a large chunk of any air based attack.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    As I recall the story the Serbs got word from spies in Italy when the F-117 took off, allowing them to estimate it’s arrival time and put up a blanket of blind fired AA in the area. This forced the plane to drop below an overcast. The overcast was moonlit, silhouetting the plane, which was hit by visually aimed AA artillery. A good plan, successfully executed. But hard to duplicate and not really a failure of stealth technology.

  10. Matt says:

    @gVOR08: That is not even remotely close to what happened. You don’t visually aim s-125 missile systems. Whoever told you that load of shit should be ignored in the future.

    While it is true that the USA uses the same entrance and exit paths (mostly due to restricted options for airspace access). It is also true that even our stealthiest plane (f117) was still visible on conventional radar. I remember they used to brag that birds had a similar radar signature. Well birds don’t fly at +500 MPH at such specific heights.

    The commander of the Yugoslav SAM that shot down the f-117 had modified the radar system to further enhance the ability to see the f-117. How he modified it has been kept secret for various reasons on both sides.

    There was at least one other f-117 that was hit and able to return home on a different day (though the airframe was scrapped). After that flight ops were changed before it became a bigger embarrassment.