The Russian S-300 deal with Iran

S-300S-300 is the name of a series of Russian long range surface-to-air missile systems, which have the purpose of protecting an area against penetrating fighter aircrafts or cruise missiles. The S-300 series is one of the most successful surface-to-air missile systems worldwide. For example, the S-300PMU-1 is comparable to the US MIM-104 Patriot, which can protect an area within a radius of 150 km and is difficult to jam. Only the US-American Northrop Grumman B-2 and the Lookhead Martin F-22 give some protection against been shot down because of their excellent stealth characteristics. According to the Russian political scientist, Igor Korotschenko, Russia was ready to sign a contract with Iran to deliver S-300 systems between 2002 and 2003. Because of some disagreements about the price tag, Iranian officials did not sign the contract until 2005. According to several sources, the contract was about mobile S-300PMU-1 or S-300PMU-2 valued at 800 Million US-Dollars. The S-300PMU-2 has a range of detection of 300 km radius and is able to shoot down a fighter aircraft or a cruise missile within a distance of 200 km. After reaching the site of operation, the system is ready to be used within 5 minutes. It is able to detect 100 targets and to destroy 36 targets simultaneously within 8 to 10 seconds. Additionally, the S-300PMU-2 is able to destroy ballistic missiles. Until the end of December 2009, Russia denied the existence of an agreement for the shipment of surface-to-air missile systems to Iran or did not give any comment about it. The deputy foreign minister of Russia, Alexei Borodavkin, announced on December 23, 2009 that he did not see any cause not to deliver such systems to Iran, because there was not any UN Resolution or another agreement prohibiting such a trade. Finally, the Russian president, Dmitri Medwedew, signed a decree, which forbids the delivery of S-300 systems to Iran. He justified his decision with the UN Resolution of June 2010, which bans the delivery of such systems to Iran.

Although the US has appreciated this decision, the US Department of State had to acknowledge in June 2010 that the UN Resolution did not prohibit the delivery of S-300 systems to Iran. So the question remains, what led to Russia’s change of mind. If we look into the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, we will find evidences in a meeting between the USA, Russia, China and France on September 23, 2009. It seems, Russia will be willing to relinquish the delivery to Iran, if the US is disposed to assume a technical cooperation with Russia in the area of nuclear energy (123-Agreement). A corresponding agreement was signed in Mai 2008, but it was bound to fail in the US Congress. Interestingly, the current US President, Barack Obama, was primarily not in favour of this agreement (Source: “US-Russia 123 Agreement Signed — Now What?”, Uranium Intelligence Weekly, 12.05.2008). In the course of the 2008 South Ossetia war, the agreement was put on hold. It was not until Mai 2010 that Obama handed over the agreement to the US Congress for the mandatory 90 day review process. With the relinquishment of the deal with Iran, Russia might build confidence in the US Congress to influence positively the ratification of the agreement. At the same time, the Russian Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ), which is a part of the state-run Russian Rosatom, tried to take over the majority of shares of the Canadian Uranium One. Uranium One will mine and process Uranium in Willow Creek and Moore Ranch, both located in Wyoming, USA. In Willow Creek, it is planned to mine as far as 1,100 tonnes Triuranium octoxide per year with the in-situ leaching (ISL) technology beginning in 2011. In Moore Ranch, it is intended to begin with mining in 2012 (is also applicable to ISL). Uranium One has further longterm projects in Arizona, Utha and Wyoming. In late December 2010, the transaction was finalised and ARMZ now keeps 51.4 per cent of the shares of Uranium One.

[Russian Deputy Foreign Minister] Ryabkov asked about the status of the Russia 123 agreement. [Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs] Tauscher responded that some in Congress are interested in moving forward on the 123 agreement, and that further discussions could be held in October. It is crucial that Russia not transfer the S-300 system to Iran if Congress is to allow the agreement to come into force, she added. Ryabkov said Russia had a valid contract for the sale of the S-300s, and acknowledged that Russia needed to make a decision regarding the S-300 sale to Iran, an issue that has been the subject of “utmost attention in many places.” Russia is in a position of growing difficulty for not honoring its contractual obligations and, finances aside, Russia is getting “no points in Iran.” Ryabkov said Russia understands the U.S. and Israeli arguments and wants to be transparent on the topic, and noted that the U.S. and Russian presidents have discussed it. The current situation is not sustainable; Russia cannot hold up the sale indefinitely. At some point Russia will have to make up its mind, Ryabkov said. Russia did not agree to sell surface-to-surface missiles but has a contract to sell Iran air defense systems. — Embassy London, “U/S Tauscher’s bilateral meetings in London with Russian, Chinese and French Officials“, 23.09.2009.

However, there are other causes for Medwedew’s decision. In 2009, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu visited secretly Medwedew (Source: Embassy Tel Aviv, “Assistant Secretary of Defense Vershbow meets with Senior Israeli Defense Officials“, 16.11.2009). It seems, Israel will offer Moscow advanced drone technology, if Russia relinquish the arms deal with Iran. Because the Russian arms industry has a lot of things to catch up with in drone technology, the Russian interlocutor hold out the prospect of paying as far as one Billion US-Dollars for the Israeli drone technology (cf.: Embassy Tel Aviv, “U/S Tauscher’s December 1-2 visit to Israel“, 22.12.2009). On September 7, 2010, the Israeli Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, and the Defence Minister of Russia, Anatoly Serdyukov, signed a contract about the delivery of 36 reconnaissance drones for 100 Million US-Dollars. Interestingly in this context is that Israel delivered drones to Georgia before the 2008 South Ossetia war (cf.: Noah Shachtman, “How Israel Trained and Equipped Georgia’s Army“, Wired, Danger Room, 19.08.2010). The Georgian drone, which was shot down by a Russian MiG-29 over Abkhaz territory in late April 2008, was a Hermes 450 from the Israel company Elbit Systems. It seems, in an additional visit, Netanyahu hold out the prospect to relinquish on further deliveries to Georgia, if Russia is willing to make concessions in the weapon deal with Iran (cf.: Embassy Moscow, “Iran dominates Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow“, 22.02.2010). A few days after the drone deal with Israel, Medwedew decided against the delivery of the S-300 systems to Iran.

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