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Mixed Messages behind Russia’s Arms Sales to Iran

S300sa10_01_.jpgRemember back when the Iranians happily announced that Russia would soon begin delivering a supply of the S-300 Missile System, only to find out that later the same day Russian officials denied the reports, saying that no such shipments were planned?  Obviously somebody was reading from the wrong PR script.  This back-and-forth series of mixed messages should be familiar to us by now – the exact same thing happened back in 2007.  We always thought that this was a move from Tehran to put public pressure on Moscow to finally give them what they had likely been promised – a reflection of their exhaustion with the endless delays both on civilian nuclear assistance and defense purchases by Russia to maintain their swing position.  (Maybe next Iran will just fake another photo of the Russian missiles delivery – even though the strongest card they could pull on Moscow would be to start inviting investors to develop their massive natural gas sector.)

Today Roger McDermott of the University of Kent has a piece in the Asia Times Online arguing that Russia is attempting to perfectly time the rumors about the S-300 deliveries in order to maximize their bargaining chip against American plans for anti-ballistic missile sites in Eastern Europe.  But with the war raging on in Gaza, these mixed messages on Iran may be ill-timed, and could result in the resumption of Israeli weapons sales to places like Georgia.  It’s really no small irony that Tbilisi could suddenly enjoy some sophisticated anti-aircraft arms as a result of Russia mishandling its manipulation of Iran.  See excerpt after the cut.

It seems that Russia’s interest in supplying such sensitive systems to Iransends a strong and possibly miscalculated signal to Washington – one that isopen to misinterpretation – in order to “promote” compromise over the BMD. Themove comes even as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that he hopesimproved relations with the US will be developed with US president-elect BarackObama.

The Kremlin’s eagerness to promote the image of a “resurgent Russia”, despiteits present financial crisis, and its ambition to become another “pole” in amultipolar world order, may be the reasons behind its move to reactivate the”frozen” issue of arms sales to Iran.

Yet, in the context of the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas inGaza, its timing could prove ill-fated. Washington will likely continue tooppose such “sales” to Iran, especially with the Middle East being so fragile,while seeking reassurances from Moscow about its commitment to buildingenduring peace in the Middle East.

As some diplomats within the European Union note, “Russia is an interestingenemy.”