It’s clear that Vladimir Putin is in no mood to cooperate with the U.S. or the European Union on almost any subject. In that context, perhaps it’s not that surprising that Russia announced on Monday, April 13th that it is lifting its ban on delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. This means that the Kremlin will soon move forward with its 2010 plans to sell a modern, long-range air-defense system to Iran.
Separately, a senior Russian government official told the media that the country has begin to provide grain, equipment and construction materials to Iran in return for crude oil in a direct swap arrangement.
The U.S. and several European nations are in the final stages of negotiations on a deal to monitor Tehran’s nuclear development activities, and analysts note the timing of this unilateral move by Russia to open up trade with Iran is certainly not coincidental.
Details on Russia anti-aircraft missile sales to Iran
The announcement came in the form of a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin that appeared on the Kremlin website removing Russian ban on S-300 sales which has been in place since 2010.
Of note, back in 2007, Russian made an $800 million deal to provide several dozen S-300s and related systems to Iran. However, the U.S. and Israel lobbied hard to get Putin to cancel the deal, highlighting worries that Tehran would use the high-end air-defense system to protect its nuclear facilities.
Russia finally agreed in late 2010, when then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev published a decree banning the delivery of any S-300 missiles to Iran. The order brought Russia in line with United Nations Security Council sanctions that put an arms embargo on Iran to try and slow down its nuclear development.
Statement from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
“At this stage, we believe the need for this kind of embargo, and a separate voluntary Russian embargo, has completely disappeared,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on Monday. “I note that the S-300 air-defense missile system, which is exclusively of a defensive nature, is not suited for the purposes of attack and doesn’t threaten the security of any governments in the region, including, of course, Israel.”
Lavrov also claimed that current U.N. sanctions don’t ban the supply of air-defense weapons to Iran. Russia merely went forward with the S-300 ban in fall 2010 to stimulate progress in nuclear talks with Tehran and remain with other world powers taking part in negotiations, he said. The recent framework agreed with Iran to eliminate its nuclear program has now removed the need for the ban, Lavrov continued.
“Taking into account the very tense situation in the surrounding area, modern air defense systems are very important to Iran,” he added.
February statement from Russian defense official
An article in Reuters notes a top Russian defense industry executive told reporters a couple of months ago that Russia had offered Iran a high-end air-defense system in the S-300 family, but the two nations had not finalized a deal yet.
In February, Sergei Chemezov, the CEO of the Russian state defense firm Rostec, was quoted in Russian state media saying that Iran was still considering Russia’s offer to supply new Antey-2500 anti-ballistic missile systems but had not yet made a decision.
“I don’t hide it, and everyone understands that the more conflicts there are, the more weapons are bought from us,” Chemezov commented, highlighting that Russia’s foreign weapons sales soared above $13 billion in 2014. “Our volumes continue to grow, despite sanctions. In particular it is Latin America and the Middle East.”
Russia – Iran oil for goods swap
According to a senior Russian official, the country began supplying grain, equipment and construction materials to Iran in return for crude oil in a swap arrangement some time ago. Reuters reported over a year ago that a contract possibly valued up to $20 billion was being negotiated and could involve Russia buying 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day.
Although there have been contradictory statements regarding such deal from both sides, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commented on Monday that a swap arrangement was already underway.
“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. He said: “In exchange for Iranian crude oil supplies, we are delivering certain products. This is not banned or limited under the current sanctions regime.” No further details were provided.