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Russian Missiles For Iranian Nuke Plants

According to an unnamed Russian source, Moscow is currently in the process of delivering Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran for placement around its nuclear facilities. The Russian news service Interfax quoted the official as saying, “The deliveries of Tor M1 to Iran have begun. The first systems have been delivered to Iran.” The same official also said that the systems’ Iranian operators were trained in Russia before the systems were delivered.

The news of Tor-M1 sales and shipment should be seen as simply cementing an existing policy through a significant equipment upgrade. As recently as September, a diplomatic source was quoted saying that “Russia has already installed and manned SAM systems around Bushehr” as part of an Iranian strategic “defense umbrella.” Left unclear was whether the previous systems were at least initially manned by Iranians or by their Russian suppliers.

But on the day of the Interfax report of the system deliveries, a spokesman for Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-run company that holds a monopoly on military export, stopped short of denying Russia has supplied Iran with the Tor-M1 air defense system. The Russian spokesman in Iran said only that they “cannot confirm reports on the start of Tor M1 air defense system deliveries to Iran.” But within 24 hours the Russian position had firmed considerably, as another Rosoboronexport spokesman, Nikolai Dimidyuk, said from an arms show in Jakarta, Indonesia, “I can affirm with 100% certainty that nothing of the kind has happened.”

Curiously, Moscow has remained silent on the issue aside from Dimidyuk’s statement from Indonesia.

The Tor-M1 system, also known as the SA-15 Gauntlet (a variation), has the ability to track up to 48 targets simultaneously while actively engaging two at a time. The short range system can acquire and begin tracking within a range of 25km and engage at 12km. Its primary advantage is the reported ability to engage cruise missiles skimming at very low altitudes, a weapons system that would likely be a major part of any American strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Russia’s intent to sell added air defense systems, namely the Tor-M1 short range missile system, has been an open policy for some time as Russia remains the Islamic Republic’s principal arms supplier. Two months ago it was announced that Russia would be providing Iran with added anti-aircraft missile capabilities, including 29 of the Tor-M1 systems, principally to protect the Bushehr nuclear reactor - currently under Russian construction - from American and/or Israeli airstrikes. (For added context, see: InBrief: Russia Supports Iranian Program As US Flounders.)

In early August 2006, the US State Department imposed sanctions on Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Sukhoi, preventing US firms from doing business with them. Both have dealings with US companies for civilian equipment, but little to nothing on the military equipment side.

But the timing of word on Rosoboronexport’s supply of new anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran is curious – as well as the silence from the top tier officials in Moscow – as the news comes just days after the United States lifted the sanctions on Sukhoi, Russia’s top jet manufacturer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the time that the lifting of sanctions against Rosoboronexport would surely soon follow “since it didn’t supply Iran with anything forbidden.” While the sale of the Tor-M1 system is not prohibited by international law or sanction, its sale with the explicit purpose of protecting Iran’s nuclear facilities indicate that Russia’s foreign policy objectives more often than not still run counter to those of the United States.

Though Washington would like to win Russia as a reliable ally, the interests of the two nations remain separated by a vast chasm. While the relationship between the two is often described as complex, there is undeniable clarity in the fact that Russia continues to supply arms – and a nuclear infrastructure - to a regime which inspires crowds to chant “Death to America” in its streets. The American relationship with Russia remains tenuous at best.