Russian officials are making statements to the effect that Moscow considers any sale of its S-300 air defense systems to Iran to be banned by the new UN sanctions against that country for its nuclear weapons program. An unidentified Kremlin source traveling with Russian president Dmitrii Medvedev told RIA-Novosti on Friday that the sale of the S-300s do fall under the new sanctions. Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) also announced: “An analysis of the provisions of the UN Security Council Resolution 1929 adopted on June 9, 2010, conducted by the FSMTC experts, shows that the restrictive measures contained in the document apply to the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran as well.” State Duma Foerign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev, who is close to the Kremlin and a member of the ruling United Russia party, reiterated this view. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov simply cautioned that it was up to the president to make the final decision to be reflected in a presidential decree. (“UN sanctions mean Russia cannot sell S-300 missiles to Iran – officials,” RIA Novosti, 11 June 2010).
Moscow has long resisted scrapping or suspending its contract to sell the S-300s to Teheran, since it is worth $800 million and breaking the contract will cost Moscow a settlement of $400 million. However, it has delayed delivery. Delay in executing the contract or reneging on it wholly will cost Russia’s defense industry $800 million or $1.2 billion, respectively.
Many analysts from the Republican and conservative camps criticized the Obama Administration on this specific point, when early reports on the content of the sanctions suggested the S-300 sale would not be excluded. I myself made this point in a recent ROPV article. If indeed Moscow has agreed to continue holding back on delivery for the sanctions’ duration, which seems likely, or to scrapping the deal entirely, which is less likely given the greater cost, then the Administration of Barack Obama has scored a major triumph in dealing with Moscow. Such an agreement will further justify its Russia ‘reset’ policy and vindicates those, like the present author, who for years have stated that a more reasonable U.S. policy would be matched by concessions from Moscow, that one could, as Maragaret Thatcher once declared, ‘do business’ with Moscow.
But the change in Moscow’s policy is not driven simply by change in Washington. It is the product of an across the board thaw in both Russian domestic and foreign policy; a thaw I have written much about on ROPV. Proof of the foreign policy thaw on Moscow’s part comes in the accelerating rapprochement not just with the U.S. but with Europe. President Dmitry Medvedev’s approach to the recent EU-Russia summit in Russia’s southern city on Rostov-na-Donu has been characterized by EU officials as “more ‘constructive’ than ever before,” according to the usually Russia-suspicious Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Medvedev said said he was “open to EU ideas” on modernizing the country and the possibility of joining an EU Energy Charter if it were modified to guarantee the rights of producer, transit, and consumer countries. He also agreed to take Russia into the World Trade Organization independently rather than as part of a joint Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus Customs Union application (Ahto Lobjakas, “EU-Russia Rapprochement Set to Continue,” RFERL, 8 June 2010).
Moreover, the summit set the stage for President Medvedev’s visit to Germany and Premier Vladimir Putin’s visit to France; both visits produced breakthroughs in EU-Russian relations. Medvedev’s visit with Prime Minister Angela Merkel and other German leaders produced an initiative to increase greater foreign policy cooperation between Brussels and Moscow. The initiative creates a joint EU-Russian political and security committee reminiscent of the U.S.-Russian Gore-Chernomyrdin committee and its successor under the auspices of presidents Obama and Medvedev with its sundry working groups. The new committee is to be co-chaired by the EU high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Moscow’s interest may not simply be to ‘divide and rule’ the Atlantic community but rather to establish building blocks towards achieving its proposed goal of creating a joint U.S-EU-Russian 'security architecture', as proposed by Medvedev in June 2008. This policy direction could help contain the Georgian-Russian conflict over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and produce an agreement between Moldova and its breakaway region, the unrecongized state of Transdnestria.
Putin’s visit to France produced a joint French-Russian committee on shipbuilding designed to develop joint naval shipbuilding projects. Putin also discussed with Prime Minister Nikola Sarcozy Russian possible cooperation in the energy sphere, in particular joint nuclear energy projects, and guarantees to protect the rights of French companies working in Russia (“RF i Frantsiya sozdadut rabochuyu gruppu dlya sotrudnichestva v sudostroenii,” RIA Novosti, 11 June 2010). This follows Moscow’s decision to pursue the purchase of French ‘Mistral’ helicopters.
It has become quite clear that Russia’s domestic thaw and the Medvedev-Putin tandem’s push to modernize the country are key factors driving Russia’s foreign policy thaw. Despite all the warnings of a ‘new cold war’, ‘eternal Russia’ and its genetic code of autocracy and authoritarianism propagated by many, including a health smattering of professional Russophobes, Moscow has embarked upon yet another wave of change. Russia’s historical pattern of pendulum swings between reform and reaction persists. As in the past, Western policies will go a long way in determining the length of this pendulum swing’s arc. The right ones can also limit or prevent any future swing back towards disenchantment with the West. Thaws and cold wars are like tangos – it takes two.