Once more Vladimir Putin and his team have managed to undercut Washington’s geopolitical strategy, this time regarding the secret bilateral US negotiations with Iran outside the G5+1 talks that included Russia. What Russia has done, with dazzling speed, is to defuse what could have been a devastating US move to turn Iran from an ally of Russia into a bitter adversary. Were that to happen it would deal a devastating blow to Russia’s resistance to the Washington dictates.
On April 13, just days after the US State department began backtracking on lifting Iran economic sanctions this June when a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is finalized, Russian President Putin signed a decree to lift a ban on the sales of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, the Kremlin press service said. “The decree lifts the ban on the transfer of the S-300 air defense systems to the Islamic Republic of Iran outside the boundaries of the Russian Federation with the use of Russian-flagged vessels and aircraft,” the statement elaborated.
The Russian S300 mobile missile defense system is far superior to outmoded US Patriot systems
This is a huge boost for Iran who had initially bought the advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile defense system in an $800-million contract signed at the end of 2007. Moscow was to supply five S-300 PMU-1 battalions to Tehran. But Washington began to put major pressure on Moscow as soon as Dmitry Medvedev became President and in September, 2010, Medvedev signed a decree cancelling the contract, allegedly in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which bans supply to Iran of conventional weapons including missiles and missile systems, tanks, attack helicopters, warplanes and ships.
In fact he buckled under to pressure from the US and Israel, who oppose providing Iran with advanced air defense systems that could counter Israeli or US air and ballistic missiles strikes. In short Iran is not allowed to defend itself from attack but NATO is with its Ballistic Missile Defense ring around Russia? Don’t look for clarity of reason, there isn’t any. Just might makes right.
The Russian S 300 Air Defense System is regarded as one of the most potent anti-aircraft missile systems currently fielded anywhere. The only better is also Russian. Its radars have the ability to simultaneously track up to 100 targets. It can outperform US Patriot Missile system. The S-300 system was developed to defend against aircraft and cruise missiles for the Soviet Air Defence Forces.
It is indicative that under present circumstances of a de facto state of war existing between Russia and Washington, that national security exigencies trump fine interpretations of UN resolutions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the UN ban on the S-300 was no longer valid as the talks between Tehran and the international mediators on the Iranian nuclear energy program are moving forward in a positive light. Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehgan will discuss the conditions for delivering Russian S-300 missile defense systems to Tehran during his visit this week to Moscow.
Washington flat-footed again
Reaction in Washington is assuming the guise of the ridiculous. The infamously incompetent US State department press spokeswoman, Marie Harf, at a press briefing declared one the one side that the State Department did not consider Putin’s decision to be in violation of the UN Security Council resolution. But, Harf argued, in an example of remarkable diplomatic confusion if not dementia that, “We think, given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region in places like Yemen, Syria or Lebanon, that this is not the time to be selling these types of systems to them.”
Is this not the time to sell Iran defense systems that protect her airspace from attack by, say, a crazed Netanyahu who bitterly opposes the US-Iran détente effort? US Secretary of State John Kerry also phoned Lavrov to convey the United States’ displeasure over the S-300 deal according to the State Department. Is Washington foolishly revealing that its true intentions vis-à-vis Iran are not at all peaceful but rather tactical? If so it would have been a far better deception to greet the Putin decision and covertly try to sabotage it later. Washington cannot be accused these days of diplomatic or strategic sophistication.
One reason for Washington to seal a nuclear deal with Iran would be to put further economic pressure on Russian energy exports. Iran oil sale resumption following the 2012 SWIFT sanctions and other US measures, would add to the financial pressure on Russia. Moreover, Washington would like to direct Iran’s huge natural gas reserves not via an Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline to the EU that Russia would strongly influence. Rather Washington would like a US-controlled gas pipeline via NATO member Turkey using that Iran gas to further weaken Russian energy strategies regarding the EU.
$20 billion Russia Iran barter deal too
However the Russian agile Iran overtures did not stop with the decision on the S-300. The same day, April 13, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia has started supplying grains, equipment and construction materials to Iran in exchange for crude oil under a barter deal that could be worth an estimated $20 billion. Ryabkov added, “In exchange for Iranian crude oil supplies, we are delivering certain products. This is not banned or limited under the current sanctions regime.” Iran is the third largest buyer of Russian wheat, and Moscow and Tehran have been discussing the deal since early 2014.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.