The embargo on conventional arms shipments to Iran, that expired on October 18, could result in Teheran purchasing Russian weapons. Iranian officials already expressed interest in acquiring the latest state-of-art Russian military technology, such as the S-400 missile system, or the Su-30 aircraft, the Kremlin seems to prepare an excuse for not doing a large-scale business with the Islamic Republic.
By Nicola Mikovic
According to Michael Eisenstadt, Director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in order to modernize the Iranian air force alone, Tehran will need at least $100 billion. Iran is believed to lack the resources to pay for advanced weapons, which is something that Moscow can use as justification for its future action vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic.
It is worth remembering that four years ago Iran tried to purchase Russian weapons, and the Kremlin-friendly analysts used the same rhetoric they are using today – Tehran does not have money for a large-scale arm sales.
Now that the arms embargo expires, Russian Ambassador to Tehran Levan Dzhagaryan said that his country is ready to supply the Tehran with its S-400 air defense system. “Russia does not have any problem to deliver S-400 to Iran and it did not have any problem before either,” Dzhagaryan said.
S-400 missile system
Last year, however, Moscow refused to provide Iran with an S-400 missile system, even though this request allegedly came from the very top of the Iranian political leadership. Given that Washington said it would “punish” those countries that decide sell weapons to Iran after October 18, it is highly uncertain if this time the Kremlin will dare to confront with the United States over the Islamic Republic.
The US threatened consequences for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action. On the other hand, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow has no intention of taking into account the United States’ “aggressive” demands concerning Iran.
That, however, does not necessarily mean that Moscow will provide S-400 to Iran. Still, Russian and Iranian military cooperation will likely materialize in the form of limited arms sales. For instance, Russia could offer defensive weapons like the S-300, which proved to be easy targets of the Azerbaijani Air Force in Nagorno-Karabakh, since the missile system was reportedly recently destroyed by the Israeli made drone IAI Harop. Thus, it is highly uncertain if the Islamic Republic is still interested in such a weapon.
As some Russian reports suggest, not that long ago Tehran handed over to Moscow an impressive list of weapons that Iran wanted to buy. The Islamic Republic was apparently interested in anti-aircraft missile systems S-400, Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters, T-90 tanks, Su-30SM and Su-35 fighters, among other military equipment. Tehran's requests are unique in their nomenclature, covering all types of armed forces.
The Russians, on the other hand, were apparently quite skeptical regarding the Iranian solvency. Still, Moscow and Tehran are expected to make deals on cheaper anti-aircraft systems such as Buk, Tor and Pantsir, which is something that the Islamic Republic can afford.
For financial and political reasons, Russia will unlikely supply Iran with offensive weapons such as the Su-30 aircraft, and the latest anti-aircraft missile systems such the S-400. The US, on the other hand, can easily impose additional packages of sanctions on Moscow if the Kremlin gets involved in any arm sales business with Tehran.
Finally, lifting of the arms embargo will provide Iran an opportunity to partially modernize its military. Because of the economic crisis, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Western sanctions, a large-scale purchases of weapons and military equipment does not seem realistic at this point, although Tehran is expected to gradually increase the quantity and quality of its own production of military equipment, especially now that the legal barriers to arms sale are removed.
Nikola Mikovic is a Serbian journalist and a senior Geopolitical Analyst he publishes often for The Levant News.