Will Russia Live Up to Its Iran S-300 Contract?

Friday, May 1, 2015

Maysam Behravesh, Doctoral Student of Political Science
Lund University, Sweden

The government of Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, signed a contract in 2007 for the delivery of S-300 missile defense system to Iran at the cost of USD 800 million. However, following a delay of three years, the then Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, announced in 2010 that his country had banned delivery of the missile defense system to Iran on the basis of the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions resolution 1929. Now after the lapse of five years since that announcement and eight years since the strategic contract, Putin has revoked the previous ban on the delivery of the missiles to Iran. More importantly, based on a statement issued by Kremlin on April 13, 2015, the executive order signed by the Russian president could be implemented immediately. That is, Tehran could take delivery of the missiles from Moscow anytime it deemed suitable. The S-300 missile defense system has a range of up to 400 km and its most advanced version can track 100 targets simultaneously and engage 12 targets, including stealth planes and ballistic missiles. Such a defense capability would have immunized Iran's nuclear sites against any military attack and would have also changed the parameters of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world powers.

In the meantime, the question is to what extent such an expectation is logical and will Russia deliver the S-300 defense system to Iran in practice?

Some political analysts that support diplomacy have mentioned a recent understanding reached between Iran and the P5+1 group in the Swiss city of Lausanne as the most important reason why Kremlin has changed its position on this issue. According to such views, Kremlin should deliver the S-300 system to Iran in near future and, as put by some officials, during the current year. This viewpoint also maintains that Russia is a country committed to international law and obligations and a reliable ally for Iran. Such conclusions, however, only result from a hurried judgment and superficial understanding, which disregards the overall picture of Russia’s ties with the West at the current juncture and ignores foreign policy behavior of Kremlin toward Iran, especially toward its nuclear program.

A comprehensive approach to foreign policy of Russia will show that during the past decade Moscow has used Iran's nuclear program and its ramifications as a profitable leverage to regulate its own relations with the Western powers. It has also sought to make the most of the two sides of the nuclear negotiations in order to promote its own interests and maintain the balance of power. At the same time, Kremlin’s sudden change of position by removing the ban on the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran is, more than anything, an effort to sustain and reproduce the same policy, but this time, under the guise of the nuclear agreement. As put by Brenda Shaffer, a professor of Russia studies at Georgetown University, Kremlin has, at least, threatened the West with selling these systems to Iran six times during past years, but has never done so.

This behavior by Moscow is not too complicated to explain. The Russian economy is under heavy pressure as a result of sanctions imposed on Moscow over the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as well as the declining global oil prices, which have fallen to almost half of last year’s price. According to some reports, the capital flight from Russia during 2014 reached over USD 150 billion as a result of the Western sanctions against the country. As the ongoing crisis rages on in Ukraine, some members of the US Congress have even went further by proposing a bill to cut Russia’s access to SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system. Politicians in Kremlin are also dissatisfied with increasing efforts by the United States and its allies for the strengthening of Syrian opposition – among whom there are many radical Islamists from Caucasus and Chechnya. In the meantime, Moscow is still concerned about the deployment of NATO’s missile defense shield in Eastern Europe and close to its western borders. Finally, the sale of Israeli arms to the government of Ukraine to fight pro-Russia separatists should be added to the list of factors that have led to Moscow’s resentment.

In view of this situation, one of the most effective tools available to Moscow to prevent further escalation of the aforesaid pressures is to “threaten” the West with selling S-300 missile defense system to Tehran. If Russia was really interested in protecting Iran's nuclear facilities against a possible military attack, it would have made the missiles available to Iran during 2007 and 2008 when the possibility of war was much higher than the current juncture.

Let’s not forget that despite frequent promises by the Russian officials, completion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant has been postponed for many years – actually it took from 1995, when the relevant contract was signed with the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, up to 2011, when the plant was officially launched. Therefore, delivery of S-300 missiles, despite what some analysts may imagine is not likely to take place in the near future. Putin’s revocation of the missile ban, more than anything else, reminds me of the “promises I gave my mother when I was a child.” This was a thought-provoking point he jokingly told Iranian officials during an official visit to Tehran in October 2007 in relation with the supply of nuclear fuel to Bushehr plant.

Key Words: Russia, Iran, S-300 Contract, President Vladimir Putin, United Nations Security Council, Sanctions, Resolution 1929, P5+1, Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Behravesh

Source: Shargh Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: CBS News

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