Russia’s Ace in the Hole: Iran

Russia’s Ace in the Hole: Iran
# 09 April 2014 21:12 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Tensions between Russia and the West are hitting a new peak. And in this face-off, Moscow has an extraordinary piece of leverage: a super-sophisticated, bomber-killing missile that it once threatened to sell to Iran, APA reports quoting Daily Beast.

Last week, Reuters first reported Russia was preparing an oil-for-goods deal with Iran worth up to $20 billion. An unnamed Iranian official told the news service that the barter would include Russian weapons. And that was before further signs ofRussia’s shadow invasion of Ukraine emerged Monday, when crowds spontaneously appeared in three major eastern cities to welcome the troops amassed over the border. The Daily Beast reported that associates of Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed and Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian president, were meeting with pro-Russian activists. Onekeen-eyed photographer captured a man wearing a Russian Airborne forces tee-shirt at one of the protests.

The trade between Moscow and Tehran would alleviate the economic pressure on Iran that the White House has said helped bring the Islamic Republic to the bargaining table. It may even sink the talks President Obama is hoping will persuade Iran to defang its nuclear program.

If those talks fail, then Russia has the leverage to equip Iran with the missile that could defend its centrifuges and reactors from allied air strikes, the S-300.

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“I could see as part of this deal [between Tehran and Moscow] that they would agree to transfer advanced missiles to Iran,” said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and an expert in the Iran sanctions. “If [Russian president Vladimir] Putin became angry enough over the West’s financial punishment of Russia, he could put in play the S-300 deal.”

The S-300 has long been Moscow’s top-of-the-line air defense system. The current model is comparable to U.S. Patriot missile batteries. The S-300 deploys sophisticated radars, launch vehicles and missiles to shoot aircraft and even ballistic missiles out of the sky. Russia has also threatened to sell the system to Syria, whose hapless air force was hacked by Israel in 2007, rendering its anti-aircraft defenses useless when Israel bombed the al-Kibar nuclear facility.

In the second term of the George W. Bush, Russia came close to selling and training Iran’s military on how to use the sophisticated S-300 system. But then in 2010, the Russians pulled back from the sale during negotiations over U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, the resolution the Obama administration used to persuade banks and finance ministries all over the world to isolate most of Iran’s economy.

Moscow ended up supporting that resolution and cancelling the sale—which was considered a triumph of the Obama administration’s foreign policy at the time. But Russia also negotiated an important loophole. While the resolution bans almost every possible arms sale imaginable, it still technically allows U.N. member states to sell Iran air defense weaponry such as the S-300 system.

“There was no prohibition of the S-300 in the resolution,” said Michael McFaul, who left his post earlier this year as the U.S. ambassador to Russia and played a role in 2010 as a senior White House staff member in negotiating the Iran resolution. McFaul said Russia’s president at the time, Dimitry Medvedev, at first privately and then publicly said the spirit of the resolution would prohibit the sale of the S-300. “But he was not obligated to do that by the resolution itself,” McFaul said.

McFaul declined to comment on whether he suspected Russia would actually provide Iran with the air defense system. Dubowitz, however, says he is concerned Moscow could renege on its promise not to sell Iran the S-300.

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