It is often forgotten that what happened to Russia with the French Mistrals is very much a case of bad Karma coming back: just as Russia had already paid France for the Mistrals, so had Iran already paid Russia for the S-300 SAMs. Both Russia and France reneged after the contracts were signed and finalized.
And just as France’s reputation will suffer from the Mistral fiasco, the Russian reputation will suffer from the S-300 fiasco. There might be those who will say that Russia was only following UNSC Resolutions, but to them I will reply that Russia made a huge mistake by allowing such Resolutions to be adopted and, furthermore, that the UNSC Resolution did cover systems such as the S-300. The decision to renege on the Iranian contract was a unilateral Russian decision.
Everybody in the Kremlin is aware of that and this is why Lavrov and his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif are likely to discuss this issue during their meeting today. I sure hope that they finally come to an agreement.
First, Russia needs to remove that shameful stain on her reputation as a reliable partner. There is no way the Iranians are going to forget what Russia did and nor should they. True, this was a Medvedev decision, and the Iranians understand that, but still – the Kremlin needs to prove that times have changed and, even more so, that Russia has changed.
Second, with all the threats coming out of Congress, Iran critically needs the Russian SAMs. Sure, the Iranians claim that they have developed a similar system (with Russian aid according to rumours), but the Iranian systems are untested and it is unclear how many of those they can produce. Iran is a very big country with a lot of potentially lucrative targets for the USAF and USN to strike in saturation attacks. Thus the quantity of high-end with overlapping engagement ranges is crucial to deter such an attack.
Third, now is the time for Russia to engage in some good PR and presenting a more trustworthy face to Iran. The lifting of sanctions on Iran presents fantastic business opportunities for Russian companies which all will need to have this unpalatable and, frankly, embarrassing episode be put into the past.
Finally, I will note that the S-300 are getting old and that both the US and Israel have gotten their hands on these systems which have no more secrets for them. Russia should either sell Iran upgraded S-300s or jump the gap and sell them the new S-400s. Not only would that make military sense, but it would be a very welcome gesture of apology from Russia to Iran – a tangible sign that a new era of cooperation as begun.