Nearly a decade after initially signing a contract with Russia, Iran has finally begun to take delivery of the S-300 air-defense system. On April 11, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari announced that “the first phase of the [S-300] contract has run its course.” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin confirmed that the deliveries had occurred, noting that the deal would be complete before the end of the year.
The delivery is likely to have taken place from Russia’s Astrakhan across the Caspian Sea to Bandar-e-Anzali in Iran. Though Ansari did not identify the type of S-300 that Iran had received, Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov noted in an interview with the Wall Streeet Journal last month that Iran would be receiving the S-300 PMU-1. Given that Russia suspended production of the S-300 and export variants in 2014, it is believed that the ones sent to Iran are from Russian stores and were upgraded prior to delivery
The sale of the S-300 to Iran has long been plagued by issues, prompting skepticism right up to this first delivery. In 2007, Moscow and Tehran reached an agreement regarding the missile system, wherein Iran would receive five battalions of S-300s, at a cost of around $800 million.
Despite Iran making a down payment for the S-300s, Russia never delivered them. Three years later, in 2010, then-President Dmitry Medvedev announced a freeze on the export, in line with a new arms embargo unveiled by the United Nations Security Council. In retaliation, Iran initiated a $4 billion lawsuit against Russia. Tehran also began moving forward with a locally-produced answer to the S-300, called the Bavar 373, which is due to enter service in March 2017.
Russia’s S-300 export ban remained in place through last April, when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to lift it, citing progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran. After Russia removed the freeze – and particularly after the nuclear deal was concluded – Moscow and Tehran entered a new round of discussions over the S-300 and “fundamentally solved” the issue in August 2015.
However, disputes between the two continued to delay finalization of the contract. Crucially, Iran’s $4 billion lawsuit still remained in place. Though Moscow wanted the lawsuit removed prior to deliveries, Tehran was adamant that the lawsuit would not be rescinded until after the first delivery had been made. After negotiating on this matter, Russia finally agreed to Iran’s demands.
Throughout the end of 2015 and into early 2016, a number of false starts occurred. The two countries initially reported that deliveries were beginning in late November and early December. This was later changed, to January. After January passed with no S-300 transfer, Iranian media reported in February that the deliveries were imminent as Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan traveled to Russia – only to have the Kremlin reveal that Iran had not completed its payment for the contract.
The S-300 deal grew more bizarre in March, when Kuwaiti news agency Al-Jarida reported that Russia had suspended the delivery once more. Al-Jarida claimed that Moscow canceled the S-300 sale in response to an alleged transfer of Pantsir S-1s from Iran to Hezbollah. Iranian officials denied these allegations.
Finally, on April 8, Rogozin stated that the contract had been concluded, indicating that payment had been completed (and no further cancelation had occurred). Interestingly enough, the delivery timeframe between the two countries may still not have been clear, for on April 9 Ali Akbar Velayati said in a televised interview that the delivery would take some time, even though the initial batch arrived less than two days later.
Now that Iran has begun receiving its S-300s, the country is likely to try to move forward with acquiring other items on its military shopping list. The list’s contents vary – ranging from tanks to missiles to fighter jets – and could be worth up to $8 billion.
Iran, however, is likely to find these procurements similarly tricky to complete. Russia has ruled out financial assistance for Iranian military acquisitions, and the U.S. has already stated it intends to block the sale of Su-30s to Iran, which can be done through the U.N. Security Council for the next five years, per Resolution 2231. In other words, the S-300 deliveries may have begun, but Iran’s post-arms embargo shopping spree still has a ways to go before the country will begin upgrading its forces with new hardware.