Saturday, April 22, 2006

Belarus: Russian Antiaircraft Missiles for Iran?

Dow Jones Newswires:
Russia began delivering advanced antiaircraft missiles to Belarus Friday, the Belarussian defense minister said, and he denied a report that the weaponry was destined for Iran.

Russia and Belarus signed an agreement last year on the delivery of the latest, most advanced version of Russia's S-300SP surface-to-air missile system, capable of shooting down targets some 150 kilometers away.

U.K. defense journal Jane's Intelligence Digest, meanwhile, reported in a recent edition that Belarus had agreed to transfer the S-300SP missiles to Iran in order to help it bolster its defenses against any possible U.S. or Israeli air strikes designed to derail what many in the West allege are its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. READ MORE

The report said the agreement had been reached in January when a high-level military and political delegation from Tehran paid a low-key visit to Minsk. The journal said Moscow had chosen an indirect way of supplying the missiles to allow it to avoid tarnishing its international reputation.

Russia has already agreed to supply sophisticated Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran.

"I have no intention of commenting on this nonsense," Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev told reporters in Minsk. "Under the contract for the delivery of the S-300s from Russia, Belarus does not have the right to transfer these systems anywhere else."

Iranian Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi, who headed a trade delegation that traveled to Minsk, also denied that Tehran wanted to acquire the Russian S-300 missiles.

"The question of deliveries of S-300 systems wasn't discussed. From the viewpoint of military technology, we are self-sufficient and there is no need for us to consider buying weapons abroad," he told reporters.

The Iranian minister said he had not met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who on Friday was also in the Belarussian capital for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko.

The missile shipment is the latest move expanding military ties between Russia and Belarus. In 1996, the two nations signed a union agreement providing for close political, economic and military ties and their armed forces have held frequent joint drills.

In February, Russian air force chief Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said Russia planned to set up a permanent military air base in Belarus.

Russia has watched warily as former Soviet bloc countries bordering Belarus - Poland, Latvia and Lithuania -have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.