Russia Update: Russia Lifts Ban On S-300 Sale To Iran

April 13, 2015
Taken in 1996, this picture shows the S-300 preparing for launch at a Russian military training ground | at a military training ground in Russia. | AFP-JIJ

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.


Special features:

Alexey Navalny On the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Theories about Possible Perpetrators of the Murder of Boris Nemtsov
Novaya Gazeta Releases Sensational Kremlin Memo: ‘It is Seen as Correct to Initiate Annexation of Eastern Regions of Ukraine to Russia’

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The Russian S-300 Missile Could Make Bombing Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Significantly Harder

We’ve been reporting on the decree, signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin today, which lifts Russia’s ban on the sale of the S-300 to Iran. 

As we noted, the missile sale has been blocked because of UN sanctions. But now that a framework deal has been agreed upon which would see Russia play a major role in the development of a civilian nuclear program in Iran — and even before UN sanctions have been dropped — Russia appears to be ready to finally sell Iran the missiles.

The Daily Beast explains exactly why this is problematic — if Iran does not comply with its end of the deal and instead it pursues a military, not civilian, nuclear program, the S-300 will make it significantly harder for the U.S. to respond to that threat:

Many U.S. defense officials from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps agree that the Russian missile system effectively renders entire regions into no-go zones for conventional jets like the F-16 or Navy F/A-18 Hornet. Currently, only high-end stealth aircraft like the $2.2 billion B-2 Spirit—of which the Air Force has exactly 20—and the high performance F-22 Raptor can safely operate inside an area protected by the S-300 and its many variants. The Pentagon’s $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will eventually be able to operate inside those zones too. But according to multiple sources within the Pentagon and defense industry agree—no warplane currently operating can remain inside those well-defended areas for long.

A senior U.S. Marine Corps aviator said that if Russia delivers the S-300 missile to Iran, it would fundamentally change U.S. war plans. “A complete game changer for all fourth-gen aircraft [like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18].  That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it,” he said.

An attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was going to be a daunting task, even under the best of circumstances, another Air Force official with extensive experience flying stealth aircraft said. The targets are deeply buried—which makes then hard to crack open with bombs–and the facilities are scattered all over the place. The Air Force’s tiny fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have to do most of the work because only those aircraft have the range and weapons needed to hit those targets properly. The introduction of any version of the S-300 would make that extremely difficult job much more challenging, the official said.

Read the article here

James Miller
Moscow Court Rules Lawful the Investigative Committee’s Refusal to Probe Kadyrov’s Order to Burn Homes of Terrorists’ Relatives
The Moscow City Court has ruled that the refusal of the Investigative Committee to investigate orders by Chechen
leader Ramzan Kadyrov to burn down the homes of terrorists is lawful, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing TASS.

In December 2014, the Investigative Committee rejected a request by Novaya Gazeta correspondent Yelena Milashina to take action on a post on Instagram in which Kadyrov warned that relatives of Islamist militants would be expelled from Chechnya and their homes razed.

In the post on December 12, 2014, Kaydrov said he had held a meeting with his ministers, heads of regions and police chiefs and made an “exceptionally harsh but fair instruction” — that any official who had a militant appear in his region should resign. Kadyrov said (translation by The Interpreter):

I officially announce that the time has come to an end when it was said that the parents do not answer for the acts of their sons or daughters. In Chechnya, they will answer! If a father sees that his son has embarked on the path of terror and Wahhabism, let him surrender him to the authorities or stop him by other means before he sheds blood. I could absolutely care less about the opinion of any persons or so-called human rights organizations silently observing the murder by NATO planes and millions of Muslims in Syria and Iraq by militants trained by the West. If a militant in Chechnya commits murder of a policeman or other person, the family of the militant will be deported from Chechnya without the right to return, and their home razed together with the foundation. Everything should know this before aiming a weapon at a police officer or other person. I will not let anyone shed blood here!


Milashina asked the IC to investigate the connection between the statement on Instagram and the burning down of the homes of relatives of suspected terrorists in December. She said the statements could indicate incitement to murder or destruction of property or abuse of office.

Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee Against Torture in Russia and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights also filed complaints to the IC and the prosecutor’s house about the torching of the homes.

The Investigative Committee said that that this statement “lacked any
information about circumstances indicating signs of a crime.”

On December 4, 14 policemen were killed and 36 wounded in a gun battle and 18 members of the terrorist group Caucasus Emirates were killed after taking over the press building and a school in Grozny. Afterward 15 homes were destroyed.

At his year-end press conference, President Vladimir Putin was questioned by Kseniya Sobchak about his tolerance of Kadyrov’s extra-legal reprisals, which are against Russian law. Putin conceded the orders to burn homes was illegal, but he said Kadyrov could be understood as his own relative was among the policemen to was killed. After this question, Sobchak was sued by the Chechen government for libel and also began to get hate mail and pickets at her home and repeated death threats at the funeral of assassinated opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. She was advised to go abroad for a time.

The failure of the IC and the courts to act despite Putin’s acknowledgement of Kadyrov’s illegal orders is yet another example of the unwillingness or inability of the Kremlin to deal with the growing problem of Kadyrov’s impunity. Zaur Dadayev, the main suspect in the murder of Nemtsov served in the Interior Ministry troops loyal to Kadyrov under Ruslan Geremeyev, a relative of Kadyrov’s; last week he refused to allow IC investigators who visited Chechnya to interrogate Geremeyev.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Moscow Sees No Reason Not to Lift ‘Voluntary Embargo’ on Iran, Says Lavrov; US Protests Delivery of S-300s

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there will be no moratoriums on delivery of the S-300 missiles systems to Iran, reported, citing RIA Novosti.

“Some sort of legal expenses are hardly likely if the delivery is undertaken,” he said, referring to past concerns that Russia may have to pay a fine for not delivering the S-300s. In 2012, Russia returned a pre-payment to Iran but has not incurred any penalties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained why its “voluntary embargo” on arming Iran is no longer needed:

“Initially, the decision to suspend the implementation of the
contract, which was already signed and came into force, was made in
September 2010,” he recalled. “It was done in the interests of support
for consolidated efforts of the six international negotiators to
stimulate a maximally constructive process of talks on settlement of the
situation around Iran’s nuclear program.

Resolution 1929 of the Security Council, which was approved in 2010,
just like any other UN resolutions did not impose any restrictions on
deliveries of air defense weapons to Iran. I will emphasize, it was done
in the spirit of goodwill to stimulate progress at the talks.”

Lavrov said the recent talks in Lausanne had brought  “substantial progress in settling Iran’s nuclear problem.” Referring to the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran, Lavrov said:

“The P5+1 stated progress in the settlement of Iran’s nuclear program.
Political frameworks of the final agreement were coordinated. They
received a high assessment on the international arena.”

There are also reports that Russia may resume arms supply of Iran in other areas:

Secretary of State John Kerry has objected to Moscow’s move in a phone call to Lavrov today, ABC News reported. The White House “indicated the move could endanger plans to ultimately lift sanctions on Iran as part of a final nuclear deal,” said ABC.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Forest Fires in Khakasiya Claim Lives of 23; Reports Denied of Ammunition Depot Explosion in Chita

More than 1,200 homes in 20 towns were engulfed in fire on Sunday April 13 in the Russian Federation Republic of Khakasiya, to the east of Moscow in the southwestern part of Siberia.

The death toll has risen to at least 23 persons in Khakasiya, with one person  missing and 900 injured, TASS and RIA Novosti reported.

More than 5,000 people have been left without shelter.

There are also fires in Transbaikal, the area east of Lake Baikal, where three people have died and 145 homes in 19 villages have been burned. Fires are also reported in Tverskaya Region.


Translation: Emergencies Ministry reports the first victims of the forest fires in Khakasiya — due to wind, aviation unable to operate.

TASS has denied reports that ammunition depots in the Chita region of Transbaikail Territory had caught fire and were exploding.

A source in the Defense Ministry said (translation by The Interpreter):

“The burning of the dry brush on the grounds adjacent to the depot zone of the army base in the raea of the Forest Camp has been localized by firefighters. The grounds are being dampened.

Earlier a source in law-enforcement said that the fire had jumped to the munitions depot. Local residents were leaving the area in panic and were being told to take their belongings and ID.

TASS reported that Oleg Skopich, first deputy head of the regional office of the Emergencies Ministry said at a briefing in Chita in the Transbaikal Territory:

“There is a difficult situation in the village. The top fire jumped on to the grounds of the army depots. There were several pops. There is no threat to the population.”

He said it was “premature” to talk about explosions. Although there were some pops from the fires, most likely this was the asbestos board.

But Governor Ilkovsky is raising the number of people evacuated due to high winds in the Transbaikal Territory.



Photos by Aleksandr Kolbasov/TASS

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia Lifts Ban to Sell S-300 Advanced Anti-Aircraft Weapons to Iran
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree which lifts the ban on the sale of the S-300 advanced anti-aircraft system to Iran. The Russian state propaganda outlet RT reports that the order is effective immediately upon signature by the Russian president.

But RT’s report also exposes a key unanswered question — how can Russia sell the S-300 to Iran if UN sanctions still block the move?

The contract for supplying S-300 missile systems to Iran was signed in 2007 and implied the delivery of five S-300 squadrons worth $800 million. But in 2010 the contract was put on hold due to the UN imposing sanctions on Iran.

Tehran answered with filing a nearly $4 billion lawsuit against Russia’s Rosoboronexport arms dealer company to a Geneva arbitration tribunal.

This all relates to the nuclear deal negotiated by the P5+1. At least according to the language posted by the U.S. government, sanctions on Iran would only be raised after it was confirmed that Iran was in full compliance with the deal — and only sanctions related to the nuclear program would be lifted. Recently, however, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that sanctions must be lifted immediately, before the deal is in place.

It’s not immediately clear when any delivery of the S-300 to Iran has been planned.

James Miller