Russia curtails military-technical cooperation with Iran according to some, and proceeds with it according to others.

UN Security Council resolution ordering additional sanctions against Iran and seconded by Moscow preceded controversial statements from Russian state officials and new debates with both the West and Iran. The matter concerns S-300 complexes Tehran has been expecting from Moscow, weapons capable of defending Iranian military objects and nuclear sites from air raids.

Interfax quoted a “senior functionary within the system of military-technical cooperation with foreign countries” as saying that the Russian-Iranian contacts in this sphere were to be curtailed. “Decisions of the UN Security Council are a must for every member state. The S-300 contract with Tehran will be put on hold,” said the functionary. Center for Analysis of Strategies and Techniques Ruslan Pukhov agreed that the new sanctions ordered by the UN were going to prevent Russia from fulfilling the S-300 contract. In fact, they were even going to force Russia to discontinue maintenance of the TOR-M1 close-range complexes already delivered to Iran.

Andrei Nesternenko of the Foreign Ministry nevertheless said that “… the UN roster of conventional weapons the Iranian resolution makes references to” only applied to shoulder-fired portable SAM launchers of all antiaircraft weapons. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov himself confirmed it later that day. Said Mikhail Dmitriyev of the Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation, “UN sanctions do not apply to S-300 complexes. It follows that the UN Security Council resolution does not apply to the Russian-Iranian S-300 contract. Work on it continues… Restrictions are imposed of course but all they concern are offensive weapons.”

Clause 8 of UN Security Council Resolution No 1929 banned sales of tanks, armored fighting vehicles, large caliber artillery pieces, warships, missiles, and missile systems. No antiaircraft complexes were mentioned in the list. On the other hand, the document urged caution on all countries in sales of “all other weapons” to Tehran.

The Iranians themselves make a good deal of weapons on the UN list. Without reliable air cover, however, all this military hardware cannot last long. No wonder the United States and Israel spare neither time nor effort to persuade Russia to renege on the S-300 contract with Tehran. Enemies of the American-Russian START treaty in the U.S. Senate already condemned the UN Security Council resolution for the failure to expressly ban sales of S-300s to Iran and completion of construction of the nuclear power plant in Busher. (Lavrov confirmed yesterday that its start-up was expected this August.)

Sources in the Iranian diplomatic circles already commented on curtailment of the bilateral military-technical cooperation. “The S-300 one is not the only contract between our countries. Iran bought MIG-29 fighters and SU-24 ground-strafers from Russia. It bought tanks as well. All this military hardware requires spare parts and regular maintenance,” said a source. He recalled that annual turnover of the Iranian-Russian military-technical cooperation amounted to $1 billion even discounting large contracts. “Some Iranian politicians say that this dependance on Russia ought to be lessened because Russia cannot be trusted. They say that it is necessary to start looking for other partners and develop our own defense industry.”

Official Tehran was enraged by Russia’s vote for the new sanctions and the tone of recent statements made in Moscow. In late May, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad advised his Russian counterpart to “take care” and be wary of following in the wake of the United States and its policy. Russian president’s Aide Sergei Prikhodko and Lavrov responded to this statement, much to Tehran’s displeasure. “There is protocol to follow. Statements made by the president deserve a response from another president only,” said an insider.

Russia in the meantime claims that it is being “pragmatic” in the matter of Iran. “We consider every tiny detail whenever a decision of this magnitude is to be made,” said a senior Russian diplomat. He added that the Russian-Iranian trade turnover discounting military-industrial complex barely reached $3.5 billion whereas the trade turnover with the United States amounted to $20 billion.

The Iranians themselves admit that Russia is not on the list of this country’s ten top trade partners.

Experts suspect that Russia is resolved to deny the antiaircraft complexes to Tehran and that it is of the mind to use the issue in the bargaining with the West. The West in the meantime has its own cards to play. Nesterenko said yesterday that some foreign countries were considering their own sanctions against Iran. He promised “adequate response” in case these sanctions were applied to Russian companies.

The United States imposed sanctions on Rosoboronexport and some other Russian structures blamed for violation of the U.S. bill on prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation to Syria, Iran, and North Korea. It was apparently Washington’s response to the sale of TOR-M1 complexes to Tehran and signing of the S-300 contract. Washington lifted these sanctions this May. Will it impose them again?