Considering the profound reassurance George Bush found in the crucifix Vladimir Putin wore when the two met six years ago, yesterday’s Christmas missile tests in Russia seem like an especially blunt thumb in the President’s eye. But while that story grabs headlines, there’s another Russian missile story that should concern us just as much, if not more.
Today, Reuters UK reports that Russia will be selling an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. The report says: “S-300 missiles are longer-ranging than the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles which Russia, in a deal criticized by the West, earlier this year said it had delivered to the Islamic Republic under a $1 billion contract.”
When the TOR-M1 deal drew U.S. and Israeli criticism, Russia downplayed the weapon’s seriousness, saying the missiles were short-range and represented a purely defensive capability. But the S-300 is actually the most lethal missile of its kind. International Assessment and Strategy Center had this to say about S-300’s, (purchased from Russia) in Chinese skies: “Over the Taiwan Strait the later versions of the S-300 become “offensive” weapons in that they can attack targets in Taiwanese airspace, severely challenging that nation’s air defense.”
Reuters reports: “Russia’s drive to boost arms exports have raised tensions with the United States, which last year imposed sanctions on Russia’s state arms trader Rosoboronexport for cooperating with Iran, a move Moscow has called illegal.” There are currently no U.N. sanctions banning conventional weapons sales to Iran.
There are two very dangerous impulses of late: to treat Tehran as a reasonable player, and to treat Putin as, of all things, a stabilizer. The U.S. has all but lost yet another PR war on these two fronts. Erroneous public opinion is clearing the way for some frightening developments. But halting the next phase can’t wait on the world’s sympathy.