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Russians deny selling S-300s to Iran; U.S. skeptical

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   Dec. 26, 2008 at 12:46 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- A senior Russian diplomat Thursday denied the claim by a prominent Iranian lawmaker that Moscow had started delivering components of its S0-300 anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile defense system to Tehran.

"I am very surprised by the fuss this story has caused recently. I think this is due to a lack of interesting international news in the run-up to the holidays that many of our Western neighbors are celebrating. This causes an influx of interest in information, which has nothing to do with anything that is going on or will happen," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow, according to a report from RIA Novosti.

As previously reported in UPI's BMD Focus column, Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on national security and foreign policy, told Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency Sunday that Russia was already sending components for its formidable S-300PMU-1 system -- NATO designation SA-20 Gargoyle -- to the Islamic republic. In Washington, the outgoing Bush administration quizzed Russia about the report. U.S. officials indicated they also had intelligence information to support Kosari's claim.

However, Russian officials have lined up to deny the claim. Ryabkov insisted that while Russia's weapons and nuclear trading with Iran was continuing, it was all above board and complied with international law.

RIA Novosti also noted that on Monday the Russian federal service for military cooperation also issued a denial of Kosari's claim. "Reports on deliveries of S-300 systems are untrue," it announced in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has remained silent on the controversy, neither confirming nor denying Kosari's claim.

RIA Novosti also reported an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement that the Kremlin had also sent a message to the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that it had not begun to send the S-300s to Iran.

Russian military commentator Ilya Kramnik wrote for RIA Novosti on Dec. 19 that selling five battalions of S-300PMUs to Iran would comprise "up to 20 systems -- 60 launchers -- depending on the makeup of a battalion. Each of the launchers carries four 48N6E missiles -- 48N6E2s with the PMU-2 mobile launchers -- with a range of 150 kilometers -- 90 miles -- up to 200 kilometers -- 120 miles -- for the 48N6E2s."

"Each launch system consists of three launchers and is capable of engaging six targets at the same time, aiming 12 missiles at them. One battalion consisting of four systems is, therefore, capable of dealing with 24 aircraft simultaneously. After changing position and replenishing ammunition, it can be quickly redeployed for repulsing a repeat raid," Kramnik wrote.

Russia also sent to Iran 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems worth $700 million under a deal closed in late 2005. RIA Novosti confirmed that Russian technicians had taught Iranian engineers and technicians how to operate the Tor-M1, including the radar systems that guide it.

The issue of whether Russia has in fact already sent components of the S-300 system to Iran is still open. The Israelis appear more ready to accept Russian assurances that they have not than the U.S. government.

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(Next: What motivates Iran and Russia on the S-300 deal)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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