August 21, 2015

About That Reset With Russia…

Vladimir Putin hasn’t missed an opportunity to poke us in the eye.

Barack Obama famously made resetting relations with Russia one of his very first foreign policy initiatives, even deploying then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a ridiculous photo-op with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (Lavrov can be seen in the photo above laughing in what could fairly be interpreted as genuine amusement that any U.S. president could be so naïve). Now, six years later, it’s apparent that we have indeed reset relations with Russia — to about 1977. From snapping up Crimea to fomenting insurrection in Ukraine to propping up Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin hasn’t missed an opportunity to poke us in the eye.

And now the latest such poke. This week, Russia and Iran announced the completion of a deal for the S-300 surface-to-air missile, one of the most capable such missiles in the world. Iran had originally attempted to acquire the S-300 in 2009, but Russia eventually backed out of the deal in the face of international pressure during the ongoing UN sanctions process over Iran’s nuclear program. But with sanctions now conveniently lifted thanks to Obama’s Iran deal, that same Sergei Lavrov has just wrapped up meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in which the S-300 deal was confirmed.

The S-300 is a very low- to very high-altitude missile, able to intercept aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles out to nearly 200 miles. Iran has reportedly contracted for four battalions’ worth at a cost of just under $1 billion, out of an annual defense budget estimated between $11-14 billion. Both Iran and Russia say the system will be delivered before the end of the year.

And we’re essentially paying for it with the $100 to $150 billion in sanctions relief through the deal.

Iran will almost certainly deploy two of the four battalions to cover its nuclear sites in central Iran and one battalion to protect Tehran. Each battalion comprises six launchers and a total of 24 missiles, plus a targeting radar, all of which are mobile. The S-300 will complicate enormously any attempt to fly into Iran’s airspace and attack its nuclear sites, which is Russia’s goal as well as Iran’s.

Why is Russia going through with this sale to a pariah nation like Iran? Partly because military systems are one of the very few Russian export items anyone wants to buy, but mainly because propping up those nations opposed to the United States has been Russian policy since 1945. As we said in 2009, Russian national interests were not going to change suddenly just because a neophyte in the Oval Office wished it were so — especially with a former KGB goon holding the reins of power in Russia. Anywhere Putin can cause headaches for the U.S. he will do so, which was obvious to everyone in 2009 except the community organizer and his secretary of state. The S-300 deal is just the latest such move, but it won’t be the last. Reset, indeed.

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