MOSCOW — The ink on the multinational framework agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program was barely dry before Russia announced last week that it would send Tehran sophisticated air-defense missiles, withheld in deference to the West when sanctions against Iran were stiffened in 2010.
For the United States, Russia’s decision to send Iran S-300 missile systems was the latest signal yet that the growing acrimony between Moscow and Washington was not easing — even with a nuclear deal on the line.
For Israel, the deal represented a threat, as S-300 missiles could effectively neutralize a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear development facilities to prevent Tehran from developing a bomb.
But for Russia, the S-300 sale was a preemptive strike of a different kind to ensure that Russia would not lose its best opportunity to enter the Iranian market before the potential lifting of international sanctions.
“A few years back, I heard one of our diplomats say: ‘A pro-American Iran is more dangerous for us than a nuclear Iran,’ ” said Russian Middle East expert Georgy Mirsky, explaining that this philosophy, though unofficial, guides the thinking of many in the Kremlin — especially as the United States has made overtures to ease relations with Tehran.