Russia's Stance Against Selling Iran S-300 Defense Systems

3 MINS READAug 24, 2011 | 18:50 GMT
Iran announced Aug. 24 that it has filed a suit in the International Court of Justice to force Russia to sell it the S-300 strategic air defense system, per a 2007 contract between the two. Moscow has refused to sell Iran the system, citing U.N. sanctions against Tehran, though it has other political reasons for withholding sale of the system. Russia could change its mind about the sale, depending on negotiations with the West, and Iran's ability to acquire the S-300s from Russia cannot be ruled out.
Iran announced Aug. 24 that it has filed a suit against Russia in the International Court of Justice over Moscow's refusal to sell Tehran S-300 strategic air defense systems. Russia signed a contract to supply Iran with the S-300 in 2007 but refused to sell the systems after the United Nations imposed international sanctions on Iran. Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mahmoud Sajadi, told Russian news agencies that Iran does not believe the air defense systems fall under the U.N. sanctions and expects the court to authorize the delivery of the S-300s. Russia has withheld delivery of the S-300 to Iran for political reasons. In addition to the U.N. sanctions, Moscow's potential sale of the license to manufacture the systems to China gives it even more reason not to sell to Tehran. However, depending on changes in the political climate, Russia could decide to sell surplus S-300s to Iran through a third-party country. The S-300 is considered one of the world's premier air defense systems (ranking close to the U.S. Patriot missile system). Russia has sold S-300s to most of the former Soviet states and to other countries including China and North Korea. Some states that are unfriendly to the West — Iran, Venezuela and others — have long wanted to acquire the missile system. However, Russia has never completed delivery of the S-300 to Iran, despite the agreement between the countries. The promise of the sale of the S-300 system to Iran has served as leverage for Moscow in its negotiations with the United States, and Moscow does not want to lose that leverage. Furthermore, actually delivering the missile systems to Iran would cause a major break in relations between Russia and the West at a time when Russia is looking to the West for assistance in modernizing several of its strategic economic sectors, increasing cooperation with the United States and strengthening its relationships with Western European powers. Moscow now has another reason not to send Iran S-300s: Russia will stop producing the system this year, according to STRATFOR sources. Russia has been replacing its S-300s with the next-generation S-400s for the past few years. Russia reportedly is ahead of schedule on completing the S-500 missile system, which will be ready for serial production by the end of 2012. There is simply no need for Russia to continue producing the S-300. Also, STRATFOR sources have said, Russia has been negotiating with China for several weeks to sell the license for producing S-300s exclusively to the Chinese. Russia will still have some S-300s to sell — those already produced and those that Moscow is replacing with S-400s. This means that if Russia should change its mind about selling the systems to Iran — and it could shift its stance as needed, based on how negotiations with the West progress — it will have a supply to draw from. If Moscow does make such a shift, it could sell the S-300s to Iran via a third party. Russia is planning to replace S-300s with S-400s in its allied neighboring countries, like Belarus, Armenia and Kazakhstan — countries Russia has commonly used as a cover to sell politically sensitive military supplies. Any Iranian officials' visits to such countries could indicate whether Russia is in fact delivering the S-300s to Iran, as Tehran's ability to acquire the system cannot be ruled out.

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