Vladimir Putin authorises delivery of missile system to Iran
The Russian president unfreezes ban on delivering $800m contract as Moscow moves ahead with oil-for-goods barter deal with Tehran
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has opened the way for the controversial delivery of a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system to Iran which had been under embargo for the past five years.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to object to the move, and the US government warned that the delivery could complicate plans to eventually lift sanctions on Iran as part of a deal over the country’s nuclear programme.
“It’s safe to say that Russia understands that the US takes very seriously the safety and security of our allies in the region,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Citing the interim framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme in Lausanne, the move signalled an apparent determination by Moscow to get a head start in the race to benefit from an eventual lifting of sanctions on Tehran.
Putin signed a decree on Monday to unfreeze the ban on delivering the $800m (£546m) contract for the Russian-made S-300 missiles as Moscow forged ahead with a $20bn oil-for-goods barter deal with Tehran.
The Russian news agency, Interfax, quoted an official at the country’s defence ministry saying it would be able to deliver the five squadrons of purchased S-300 missile systems swiftly to Iran once given the go ahead to do so.
The missile contract had been frozen since 2010 when it was put on ice by the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, following pressure primarily from the US and Israel. Russia has long insisted its decision in 2010 to freeze the S-300 delivery was based on the sanctions the United Nations security council imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.
According to Russian media, the decree “lifts the ban on transit through Russian territory, including airlift, and the export from the Russian Federation to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also the transfer to the Islamic Republic of Iran outside the territory of the Russian Federation, both by sea and by air, of air defence missile systems S-300.”
Medvedev’s move followed the passage of UN security council resolution 1929, approved in June 2010, that banned the sale to Iran of “battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems.”
That resolution was passed following concern that Iran had failed to satisfy previous resolutions and IAEA requirements.
Although Iran had developed its own version of the missile system – unveiled for the first time last year – delivery of the S-300s will markedly upgrade its anti-aircraft missile defences at a time of increased tension in the region.
The S-300 has been superseded by the new S-400 and the Antey-2500 missile systems – which Iran was reportedly offered instead earlier this year – but it is still regarded as a formidable air defence system with a range of about 90 km.
Delivery and installation of the missile system would make any future attack on Iran or its nuclear facilities – by the US or Israel – considerably more difficult and costly.
The delivery also comes amid an increasingly hot – if still largely proxy conflict – between Iran and Saudi Arabia, most recently in Yemen where the US has backed Saudi Arabia.
Iran had already paid for the missile contract, signed in 2007, and had sued for non-delivery.
However, indications that the impasse between Tehran and Moscow over the missiles began to emerge earlier this year.
One possibility for the timing of the announcement lifting the embargo is that the US understanding of the Lausanne framework deal foresees a lifting of sanctions backed by a potential new UN resolution on conventional and ballistic weapons sales to Iran which Russia appears to have pre-empted.
The move also drew swift condemnation from the government of Israel, which has lobbied hard against the nuclear agreement.
The Israeli intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, said the Russian announcement was the direct result of the nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers.
“Even as Iran disavows article after article in the framework agreement ... the international community is beginning to ease restrictions on it.
“This is the direct result of the legitimacy that Iran is receiving from the nuclear deal being made with it. This also proves that the economic momentum in Iran that will come in the wake of the lifting of the sanctions will be exploited for armaments and not used for the welfare of the Iranian people.
“Instead of demanding that Iran desist from the terrorist activity that it is carrying out in the Middle East and throughout the world, it is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression,” he said.
A senior Russian government official – who spoke to Reuters – said separately that Russia has started supplying grain, equipment and construction materials to Iran in exchange for crude oil under a barter deal.
“I wanted to draw your attention to the rolling out of the oil-for-goods deal, which is on a very significant scale,” Ryabkov told a briefing with members of the upper house of parliament on the talks with Iran.
“In exchange for Iranian crude oil supplies, we are delivering certain products. This is not banned or limited under the current sanctions regime.”
Russia hopes to reap economic and trade benefits if a final deal is concluded to build on the framework agreement reached in Lausanne between Iran and six world powers - Russia, the United States, France, Britain, Germany and China.
The sides have until the end of June to work out a detailed technical agreement under which Iran would curb its nuclear programme and allow international control in exchange for a lifting of economic sanctions. Tehran has denied that its nuclear activities are designed at developing atomic weapons.