It is beginning to look like Russia will go ahead with the sale of advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries to Iran. The transfer will make it even more difficult to strike Iran’s uranium enrichment sites. Yesterday, Russian media quoted the press-secretary of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that the negotiations between Russian and Iranian officials and experts are proceeding “in a way that will ensure” that Tehran gets the missile system.
Former President Dmitri Medvedev annulled the original $800 million sale of five S-300 missiles after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010. Recent reports have indicated that Russia may supply Iran with the more modern Antey-2500 systems, which are said to be more advanced than the originals, with a target range almost doubled from 150 kilometers [93 miles] to 250 kilometers [155 miles].
Given the trajectory of Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies, the sale, if it is finalized, ought to surprise no one. Putin seems to be applying the “Syrian formula,” which the Russian president so successfully tested last month, again. As it did in regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Russia continues to deny that Iran is enriching uranium to make a bomb. And, just as with the Syrian case, Russia provides diplomatic cover for the offending regime by ensuring that no use of force will ever be authorized by the Security Council in the event of non-compliance (all the while supplying weapons to its authoritarian pal).
Putin’s dealings with Syria and now with Iran can be explained by the Russian president’s objectives: to recover the Soviet Union’s position as a key player in the Middle East; to prevent or impede a victory of, or even concession to, US diplomacy; and, most importantly, to avert regime change, or even a compromise with the political opposition, anywhere or under any circumstances, especially if the country in question is a former Soviet (or current Russian) ally and client.
Undoubtedly, if the sale goes through, there will be expressions of “disappointment” from the White House. But after the US has effectively signed on to Russia’s “Syrian formula” of “conflict resolution,” who, in Moscow or Tehran, will pay attention to US displeasure?