Commentary Magazine


Russia to Proceed with Iran Missile Sale?

My colleague Leon Aron has pointed out, based on Russian press reports, that it appears that Vladimir Putin now plans to move ahead with the sale of a missile network more advanced than the cancelled S-300 anti-aircraft system to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over at AEI-Ideas, Aron explains:

Former President Dmitri Medvedev annulled the original $800 million sale of five S-300 missiles after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010. Recent reports have indicated that Russia may supply Iran with the more modern Antey-2500 systems, which are said to be more advanced than the originals, with a target range almost doubled from 150 kilometers [93 miles] to 250 kilometers [155 miles]. Given the trajectory of Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies, the sale, if it is finalized, ought to surprise no one. Putin seems to be applying the “Syrian formula,” which the Russian president so successfully tested last month, again. As it did in regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Russia continues to deny that Iran is enriching uranium to make a bomb. And, just as with the Syrian case, Russia provides diplomatic cover for the offending regime by ensuring that no use of force will ever be authorized by the Security Council in the event of non-compliance (all the while supplying weapons to its authoritarian pal). Putin’s dealings with Syria and now with Iran can be explained by the Russian president’s objectives:  to recover the Soviet Union’s position as a key player in the Middle East; to prevent or impede a victory of, or even concession to, US diplomacy; and, most importantly, to avert regime change, or even a compromise with the political opposition, anywhere or under any circumstances, especially if the country in question is a former Soviet (or current Russian) ally and client.

Aron is correct in his reading of Russia, and has consistently been so. Obama’s more partisan cheerleaders may praise his first-term “reset” and second-term “breakthrough” on Syria, but the fact remains that this White House and both the Clinton and Kerry State Departments have consistently misread Russian intentions (to be fair, so did George W. Bush when he said he could see Putin’s soul).

Russia sees diplomacy as a zero-sum game. While Russia is simply an adversary and not by any means a rogue regime, the notion of winner-take-all diplomacy is a common element of the rogue regime mentality. Alas, Obama refuses to recognize that he is getting played and, in doing so, putting American allies in a perilous position.