Russia Update: Moscow and Tehran May Sign New Contract for S-300s in Early 2016 to Deliver in 18 Months

November 9, 2015
S-300 in Moscow. Stock Photo by Reuters

A Russian source has once again invoked the prospect of the Kremlin selling S-300s to Iran, with an agreement possibly to be reached in early 2015 for delivery 18 months later.

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.

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Yabloko Head Sergei Mitrokhin Released From Jail Pending Trial After Anti-Bolshevik Demonstration

Sergei Mitrokhin, head of the Yabloko Party, arrested on November 7 (Revolution Day) in a demonstration in memory of resistance to Bolshevism, was released from jail on November 8 pending review of his case in court, Human Rights in Russia reported.

Yabloko’s press service said Mitrokhin was treated roughly and was detained for attempting to put up a symbolic plaque in memory of the democratic cadets and officers who opposed the Bolsheviks’ coup in 1917.

According to
Radio Svoboda, Mitrokhin told RIA Novosti that this annual action did
not require permission as it had a long tradition. He said he does not
know the reason he was detained but he has been charged with refusing to
comply with the lawful demands of a police officer and demonstrating
without a permit.

About a dozen participants gathered to lay flowers at
the building of the former Alexandrovsky Academy. Then Mitrokhin placed the plaque
which could have been easily removed and didn’t cause any damage, he said.

Meanwhile, Communists demonstrated in Moscow and other cities without interruption to commemorate the day.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Ruslan Gereyemev Reportedly Declared Suspect in Murder of Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov
Ruslan Gereyemev, the deputy commander of the Sever [North] Battalion whose subordinate Zaur Dadayev has been the chief suspect in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, has himself now been declared a suspect in the case, reported.
Earlier, Gereyemeyv had figured in the case as a witness, but now his status has been changed to suspect, a source close to the investigation told In June, we reported that Geremeyev had been placed on the police wanted list and was believed to have fled Russia.
An Investigative Committee team has gone to Chechnya to interrogate persons related to the murder. They were supposed to start questioning a large group of relatives and friends of Geremeyev on November 6 at the Shelkovsky District Investigative Committee, but this was postponed until November 9-11. 
On Friday November 6, Rosbalt reported that a source in the Investigative Committee issued a notice of the charging of Ruslan Mukhutdinov in the murder in absentia Mukhutdinov was Ruslan Geremeyev’s driver, also an Interior Ministry employee. The Investigative Committee indicated he was the organizer of a high-profile crime,” and that he had organized the murder of Nemtsov and brought five other men in as perpetrators, all of whom are now in custody. The statement said that he had been hired for a fee.

But there isn’t any official statement on the Investigative Committee web site about the Nemtsov case on November 6 or today, and there haven’t been any official statements from any agency since March, although three bodies were charged with joint investigation of the murder: the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry (police) and the Investigative Committee.

Meanwhile, Vadim Prokhorov, the lawyer for the Nemtsov family, has requested to interrogate Col. Gen. Viktor Zolotov, a powerful figure in Russia who has served for 13 years as the chief of the Presidential Security Service and as deputy director of the Federal Protective Service which guards the Kremlin grounds — and which also holds the “nuclear suitcase.” 

Zolotov has also been commander-in-chief of the Interior Ministry’s internal troops since 2014 and holds the title of first deputy interior minister. He has been supposedly groomed by Putin to take over the Federal Security Service (FSB).

When Putin disappeared in March of this year, there were rumors of Zolotov’s death, too, although later he was found alive and well. Zolotov would both have access to information about events on the Kremlin grounds near the site of Nemtsov’s murder and is the ultimate superior to the Chechen Sever battalion of the Internal Troops. 

Translation: Aha, lawyers for Nemtsov’s family demand that the head of Putin’s security be interrogated about the murder.

Zolotov unexpectedly visited Chechnya in August 2015 to inspect the troops and was received in Kadyrov’s home. 

Prokhorov wrote on his Facebook that that the investigation had stalled.

Well, first, it’s hard for even the almighty Investigative Committee of Russia to work in Chechnya, especially with its leadership and the entourage of this leadership. It is much easier to stamp out cases in Moscow and other comfortable large cities against opposition members…

Secondly — and this is the main point — there is clearly no higher decision from the Tsar to really crack this case in full and bring to justice all the perpetrators. Even the organizers at a lower level, who are suspected to be Ruslan Geremeyev and Ruslan Mukhutdinov.


Prokhorov said that while law-enforcers quickly found the direct perpetrators and found the trail that led to Chechnya and Sever, they have been unable to apprehend Geremeyev.

At the top of this command structure is Zolotov, says Prokhorov, who once served under Yeltsin’s notorious chief of securityAleksandr Korzhakov, a former KGB officer, and is believed to be close to both Putin and Kadyrov.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russian FSB Reportedly Infiltrated Sochi Olympics To Facilitate Athletic Doping

Russian athletes, including Olympians, have been involved in a systematic doping regime to gain competitive advantage, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Russian officials, according to the new report released by WADA, led the efforts to drug athletes in an apparent attempt to boost Russia’s athletic performances on some of the world’s largest stages.

Russian athletes accounted for more drug violations than any other nation in 2013, with Russia accounting for more than a fifth of all positive drug results in track and field, causing WADA to focus on this period. New York Times reports:

“What made these allegations even more egregious was the knowledge that the government of the Russian Federation provides direct funding and oversight for the above institutions, thus suggesting that the federal government was not only complicit in the collusion, but that it was effectively a state-sponsored regime,” the report said.

The report was the result of a 10-month investigation by an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Its inquiry stemmed from a December 2014 documentary by the German public broadcaster ARD, which drew on accounts from Russian athletes, coaches and anti-doping authorities, who said that the government had helped procure drugs for athletes and cover up positive test results.

Further allegations emerged in August, when ARD and the Sunday Times of London released another report more broadly focused on the leaked results of thousands of international athletes’ blood tests dating to 2001, showing decorated athletes in good standing with suspicious drug tests. Those allegations are also being investigated by the independent commission, but the results were not included in Monday’s report, as the inquiry is ongoing, the agency said.

The Russian government was so deeply involved that, according to the report, FSB agents (the descendant of the Russian KGB) directly infiltrated the Sochi Olympics to ensure their athletes were not caught. The Associated Press reports:

The report said agents from the FSB even infiltrated Russia’s anti-doping work at the Sochi Olympics. One witness told the inquiry that “in Sochi, we had some guys pretending to be engineers in the lab but actually they were from the federal security service.”

Staff at Russia’s anti-doping lab in Moscow believed their offices were bugged by the FSB and an FSB agent regularly visited.

This was part of a wider pattern of “direct intimidation and interference by the Russian state with the Moscow laboratory operations,” the report said.

While its report largely focuses on doping in Russian athletics, it adds “there is no reason to believe that athletics is the only sport in Russia to have been affected.”

The WADA report recommended suspending Russian activity from sporting events. In a statement posted on their website, the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) has called for sanctions against Russia, including a possible suspension from the IAAF.

In response to WADA’s Independent Commission report issued today, the IAAF President, Sebastian Coe, has taken the urgent step of seeking approval from his fellow IAAF Council Members to consider sanctions against the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF).  These sanctions could include provisional and full suspension and the removal of future IAAF events.

Commenting on the report, the IAAF President said: “The information in WADA’s Independent Commissions Report is alarming. We need time to properly digest and understand the detailed findings included in the report. However, I have urged the Council to start the process of considering sanctions against ARAF. This step has not been taken lightly. Our athletes, partners and fans have my total assurance that where there are failures in our governance or our anti-doping programmes we will fix them. We will do whatever it takes to protect the clean athletes and rebuild trust in our sport. The IAAF will continue to offer the police authorities our full co-operation into their ongoing investigation.

Russia could be facing a ban from the Olympics and possibly other international athletic events as a result.

Russia, on the other hand, denies the statements:

BBC reports:

Russia’s sport minister, Vitaly Mutko, has denied all allegations, while Araf has accused Wada of circumventing established protocols for dealing with doping.

“Any suspension should be discussed at the meeting of the IAAF in November,” acting Araf head Vadim Zelechenok told R-Sport channel. “It should be proven that any violations were the fault of the federation and not individual sportspeople. We should be given a chance to clear our names.”

James Miller

‘High Probability’ Metrojet Flight Was Downed By Bomb

Reuters reports that Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli foreign minister, has said that “there is a high probability” that the downing of the Russian Metrojet flight over the Sinai desert on October 31 was a terrorist attack.

“There is a high probability, from what we understand, that this was a terrorist attack,” Yaalon told Israeli reporters, according to his spokesman. Israel, which closely monitors the Sinai, had previously declined to comment on the cause of the crash.

Earlier this morning, Reuters reported that Egyptian investigators were now “90 percent sure it was a bomb,” based on analysis of the audio from the black box recorder.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times reported that British officials in Whitehall had confirmed that Abu Osama al-Masri, an Egyptian cleric and leader of Wilayat Sinai – a regional branch of ISIS – is a “person of interest” in the case.

Al-Masri claimed responsibility for the attack in an audio statement released on November 4.  

Meanwhile the Egyptian authorities announced today that they had killed another member of Wilayat Sinai in Cairo.

AFP reports that Ashraf Ali Ali Hassanein al-Gharabli was shot dead by police during a shoot-out as they attempted to arrest him. 

Hassanein was also a member of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the group that pledged allegiance to ISIS last year and of which al-Masri was a leader.

According to the AFP report, Hassanein was implicated in the bombing of the Italian consulate in Cairo last July and the murders of a Croat and an American.

A police official told AFP he had been the right-hand man of Hisham al-Eshmawi, a feared former commando who is believed to have spearheaded a string of bombings and assassinations in the capital for the militant Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group. 

— Pierre Vaux

Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Charged With Vandalism After Setting Fire To Lubyanka Doors

Interfax reports that performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been charged with vandalism after setting fire to the doors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) building on Lubyanka square in the early hours of this morning.

Pavlensky is already well known for previous protest performances, such as nailing his scrotum to the pavement in Red Square in 2013, or sewing his lips shut in protest of the jailing of Pussy Riot in 2012.

At around 3 am today, Pavlensky poured petrol over the wooden doors of the FSB building, which formerly housed the Service’s predecessors – the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and KGB – and the dreaded Lubyanka prison, and set them alight.

Photographer and journalist Ilya Varlamov, took pictures of the performance, which Pavlensky has dubbed Threat.


Within 30 seconds the artist was detained by a security guard. 


Varlamov reports that several journalists who had been filming Pavlensky were also detained. Unlike the artist himself however, they were released later this morning.

TV Rain (Dozhd) spoke to Olga Chavdar, Pavlensky’s lawyer, who told the channel that the artist was now being held by the FSB.

According to Chavdar, the FSB have asked Pavlensky one question: whether he had intended to kill anyone. The artist denied this.

Video of the performance was uploaded to Pavlensky’s Vimeo account: 

Pavlensky said that he considered the FSB to be a threat to all Russians.

The Interpreter translates:

“The burning door of the Lubyanka is a glove thrown by society into the face of the terrorist threat.

The Federal Security Service operates by means of uninterrupted terror and holds power over 146,000,000 people. Fear turns free people into a stuck-together mass of disjointed bodies.

The threat of inevitable reprisals hangs over everyone within reach of the apparatus of surveillance, eavesdropping and passport controls. The military courts liquidate any manifestation of free will. But terrorism can only exist by means of the animal instinct of fear.

To go against this human instinct is an unconditional defensive reflex. This is the reflex of fighting for one’s life. And life is worth starting to fight for.”

— Pierre Vaux

Iran and Russia Already Signed Contract for S-300s Delivery: Rostec

A correspondent from at the air show in Dubai has named the official quoted by Tass earlier today as saying a deal between Iran and Russia to deliver the S-300s would be signed early next year.

He is Sergei Chemezov, head of Rostec, the state defense company.

But has quoted him as saying “the long saga is over” and that the contract was already signed and would enter into force.

Chemezov said that after the delivery of the first load of S-300s, Russia expected an official retraction of the Iranian lawsuit against Moscow for its failure to deliver the weapons earlier, and a settlement of all claims.

Chemezov refrained from specifying the specific model of the system to be delivered. Earlier it was reported that Iran may get the S-300P (PMU-1 or PMU-2) as well as the S-300V (S-300VM Antei-2500).

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Russia and Iran May Sign New Contract for S-300s in Early 2016 for Delivery After 18 Months

Russia and Iran may sign a new contract for delivery of the anti-aircraft missile system S-300 in early 2016, reported, citing TASS.

According to the TASS report, an unnamed representative of the Russian delegation to the Dubai Airshow 2015 made this statement (translation by The Interpreter):

“Talks with Iran on designing the look of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system are continuing and will be completed no earlier than the start of next year,” he said, noting that at that time a contract would be signed to deliver the S-300 anti-aircraft system “in the aspect in which Iran determines.”

A source with whom TASS spoke said that defense manufacturer Almaz-Anti which will be the lead contractor on this project is capable of guaranteeing the production and delivery of the S-300 for Iran within 18 months after signing the contract.

As TASS reported:

At the present time there is no official information about which concrete S-300 anti-aircraft missile system Iran intends to acquire: the S-300 PMU-1, which at the present time has been removed from production, but which may be made especially for Iran, or the S-300 VM.

Russia contracted with Iran in 2007 to deliver 7 divisions of the S-300 MPU-1 with 40 launchers for a sum of about $800 million. But the sale was banned by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 in compliance with a UN Security Council resolution.

Russia has periodically invoked the prospect of selling Iran the S-300s, long blocked due to Iran sanctions. But when the framework agreement was made with Iran in the past year, Russia lifted its own ban, saying it saw no reason not to since there was “substantial progress in settling Iran’s nuclear problem.”

As we explained in April, if Iran doesn’t comply with its agreements and proceeds with a military rather than a civilian nuclear program, the S-300 will make it significantly harder for the US to respond to its threat.

As the Daily Beast explained:

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.

The practical issues of the cost of the purchase of the S-300s  for Iran, plus the time needed for Russia to manufacture the system have been deterrents on their delivery.

In June, Russia signed a contract with Iran to deliver Antei-2500s, which Kommersant reported at the time was a substitute for taking the S-300s that would avoid the problem of Moscow having to pay damages to Tehran.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick