Russia Abandons Sale of Anti-Aircraft Missiles to Iran

Russia announced Wednesday that it would not deliver its controversial S-300 missile defense system to Iran, in a move that will be greeted with relief in the U.S. and Israel, both of which had lobbied the Kremlin fiercely.

Russia signed an $800 million contract in 2005 to sell at least five S-300s to Iran, but has repeatedly stalled on delivery. On Wednesday General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian armed forces, said that shipment had now been canceled after the United Nations Security Council approved new sanctions in June in response to Iranian defiance over its nuclear program.

“A decision has been made not to sell S-300s to Iran. They are definitely subject to the sanctions,” he told reporters. “There has been an instruction from the leadership to stop the shipment and we are obeying it.”

He added that possible future delivery would “depend on Iran’s behavior”. The decision is certain to infuriate Tehran, which has been pressing Moscow to deliver the weapons as insurance against possible American or Israel military airstrikes on its nuclear facilities.

Iran said that it is pursuing a peaceful civil nuclear program but the U.S. and leading European nations are convinced that it is secretly developing an atomic bomb. Russian engineers loaded the initial fuel into Iran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr last month. The reactor is due to begin operation later this year.

Tehran has insisted that it will continue to develop its uranium enrichment program in defiance of international pressure. The U.N. resolution in June said its sanctions on Iran could be lifted if the regime suspended all enrichment activities.