Russia’s Latest Weapons Sale to Iran Shifts the Balance of Mideast Power
Policy + Politics

Russia’s Latest Weapons Sale to Iran Shifts the Balance of Mideast Power

© Leonhard Foeger / Reuters

Iran is purchasing more and more military hardware from Russia, as Tehran moves to aggressively beef up its military capability after decades of international economic sanctions.

Moscow will deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran in "the nearest time," RIA news agency quoted Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying on Monday.

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Russia and Iran signed an $800 million contract in 2007 for the supply of five S-300 systems, but the advanced defensive weapons system deal was frozen in 2010 due to U.N sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin approved delivery of the air defense missile system in April 2015.

Iran has also shown interest in buying more advanced, S-400 missile systems, which are currently deployed at Russia’s airbase in Syria, but no formal talks have reportedly been held.

The news of the S-300’s imminent delivery comes on the heels of an announcement last week on Iran’s Ministry of Defense web site that the Islamic Republic will sign a contract with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets. The fighter jet, which is part of Moscow’s military arsenal in the war in Syria, is said to be comparable to the American F-15E fighter-bomber.

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While the exact number of fighters and the timeline for signing the deal remain unknown, an Iranian defense official said that Iran would be involved in the production of the aircraft.

Iran needs to "seriously focus on the air force and fighters," the official said. "We are moving toward a contract. We told them that we need to be involved in the production (of the plane) as well.”

The acquisition, and Iranian involvement in the production, mark a significant step for the country as it seeks to become an even greater regional power in the already volatile Middle East.

Iran's air force relies on domestically altered versions of outdated warplanes, including former Soviet Union-era MiGs. At the same time, Tehran is backing forces in conflicts in Syria and Yemen; if those allies begin demanding more support, or Iranian leaders want to expand their influence, the nation’s military arsenal would benefit from a massive upgrade and from the technical knowhow gleaned from helping build the new equipment.

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Russia also stands to benefit economically and diplomatically from turning Iran into a client. Moscow’s economy has been walloped over the last several years, thanks to international sanctions over its aggression toward Ukraine and the tumbling price of oil. Arms sales offer an easy cash infusion into Russia’s economy.

It’s no secret that Russia’s foray into Syria was motivated by Moscow’s concern over losing a major arms partner in Damascus. By increasing its entanglements with Iran, Russia bolsters a partner and leaves the U.S. and its allies playing catch-up as the Kremlin draws the Islamic Republic deeper into its orbit.