Delay Tactics
Why Is Russia Dragging Its Feet on Missile Delivery to Iran?

In the wake of President Obama’s big speech announcing the supposed framework agreement for a nuclear deal with Iran, Vladimir Putin lifted the erstwhile Russian ban on sales of S-300 missiles to Tehran. Since then, Russia and Iran have been working to hammer out a deal for the sale, and earlier this week they reached a conclusion. If you ask Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the deal ended in “success.”

But clearly he is a glass half full kind of guy. Another, perhaps more accurate description of what went down would say that even after lifting the ban Russia has indefinitely postponed delivery on the deal. The FT reports:

“The right time to make such deliveries has not yet come,” Yevgeny Lukyanov, deputy head of Russia’s security council, said on Tuesday.

Other Russian officials added that the long delay in executing the sale of the S-300 missile system to Tehran, for which a contract was signed in 2007, had created a situation so complex that it was impossible to predict when the deal could go ahead.[…]

Iran’s defence minister Hossein Dehghan said on a visit to Moscow last month that he expected the S-300 contract to be reviewed within a month and deliveries to happen before the end of this year.

But Russian officials on Tuesday refused to confirm any such timeframe. Talking about a schedule would be “not just premature but very wrong,” Mr Ryabkov said.

S-300s are anti-aircraft defenses, and one of the reasons Iran’s enemies have been so stridently opposed to Tehran getting hold of them is that it would make it much harder to conduct airstrikes on Iranian facilities such as, say, underground bunkers in which Iran was sprinting to get a nuclear bomb. This raises the question, though, of why Russia, which lately has been keen to deal with fellow revisionist powers and to mess with almost any goal the U.S. holds dear, would show such restraint.

As the FT suggests, one of the factors that may be giving Russia pause here is its ties with Middle Eastern states which don’t want Tehran to have nuclear capabilities—chief among those Israel. Russia and Israel have a closer economic relationship than many in the U.S. understand. A big wave of emigration after fall of USSR created a large Russian immigrant community in Israel, and Putin believes that one of the big mistakes of the Soviet Union was to abandon its original friendship with the country.

It may not be what’s ultimately going on here—the Kremlin may just be stalling in order to release the rockets at a future time of their choosing that they think gives them some extra leverage in world affairs—but the dynamic is worth keeping in mind.

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