Senior Russian general warns Washington to think twice before attacking Iran
Washington needs to think twice before launching a military campaign against Tehran as such an attack would have global implications, a senior Russian military official said Tuesday. Yury Baluyevsky, the head of the armed forces' General Staff, said: "Inflicting damage on Iran's military and industrial potential might be realistic, but winning [the war] is unachievable - its reverberations would be heard across the world." Baluyevsky said that when making a decision on Iran, U.S. leaders should bear in mind the negative experience in other countries of the region. "Our strategic partners have already got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. He warned that if the U.S. goes to war with Iran as well, the world may see America decline as the world's "mightiest and most powerful state." The U.S. Administration sees Iran as a "rogue state" belonging to what President George W. Bush has termed "an axis of evil," and is determined to stop the Islamic Republic - diplomatically or otherwise - from obtaining a nuclear weapon. It now plans to deploy a national missile defense shield in Central Europe, which it says will help protect its own security and that of its European allies against potential missile strikes from Iran, suspected by the West of pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program.
Russia anxious about military action against Iran near its border
Russia is concerned about a possible attack on Iran and insists that military action near its border is totally unacceptable, the first deputy foreign minister said Tuesday. Russia, which is separated from Iran in the south by three tiny South Caucasus nations and shares a sea border with the Islamic Republic, has been actively promoting a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue. "Any military action near our border is totally unacceptable," Andrei Denisov said. "We are strongly against it and we are doing our best to prevent it from happening." Media reports in late March said Washington was preparing to strike at Iran in early April but Denisov denied the information. "Our partners say movement of military structures in the Persian Gulf is part of a planned rotation," the diplomat said. Yury Baluyevsky, the head of the Russian General Staff, warned Washington earlier Tuesday that it should think twice before launching a military campaign against Tehran as it would have global implications. "Our strategic partners have already got bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. The U.S. Administration sees Iran as a "rogue state" and is determined to stop the Islamic Republic, diplomatically or otherwise, from obtaining nuclear weapons. Washington now plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Central Europe allegedly to protect itself from potential missile strikes from Iran or North Korea. The UN Security Council passed a new resolution on Iran March 24 toughening economic sanctions against the country suspected of a covert nuclear program. Russia, which is building a $1-billion nuclear power plant in Iran, has resisted any strict sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Why Russia should sell weapons to Iran and Syria
In the United States, the debate on pulling out of Iraq has given way to a dispute about the wisdom of supplying the Saudis with the latest American weapons. A similar situation is taking place in France, where passions are running high around the planned delivery of weapons and a nuclear power plant to Libya. In both cases, the commercial and political benefits are being weighed against the threat of nuclear proliferation and concern about terrorists getting their hands on nuclear arms. With whom is it OK to trade in such commodities, and on what terms? These have always been relevant questions. The U.S. Congress warned President George W. Bush that in September, after their return from summer recess, they would submit to both the House and the Senate a bill that would block supplies of certain weapons to the Saudis. They explained that Saudi Arabia did not behave like an American ally; rather, it supplied militants and suicide bombers for the war in Iraq and funded terrorist activities all over the world. These comments were made about one of Washington's key partners in the Arab world. The United States is hurling the same accusations at its number one enemies: Syria and Iran. What is the difference between a friend and a foe?
It is true that terrorists are coming to Iraq both from Saudi Arabia and Syria. Many of the militants captured in Iraq have Saudi passports. But this does not mean that the kingdom's government supports them. (There is no evidence that Syria is backing them, either). Quite the contrary, the Saudis are interested in fighting terrorism. But there are private funds helping the Islamic extremists in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world. After September 11, 2001 the Gulf governments became much more cautious in their attitude to such funds and generally changed their attitude to the extremists, who are now primarily a major headache for them. Extremists are a problem for the entire Muslim world, rather than just the Saudis. Does this mean that it is necessary to ban the sale of weapons in the Middle East? U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a telling comment on this subject. He told the Israelis that the Saudis and other moderate Arab countries would be able to get the weapons elsewhere, including from Russia, if America did not supply them. The logic is understandable: it is better to try and control which weapons are sold and where, or put the sales under international supervision, say, the IAEA, rather than cede the market to other countries.
But Moscow is following the same logic in cooperating with Syria and Iran. Many arguments may be cited to explain the difference between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or Syria and Iraq, but they are largely politically motivated. The entire Middle East, or rather the Muslim world, is in the same boat. Weapons supplied to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan or the Palestinian National Authority may end up in terrorist hands just like weapons sold to Syria and Iran. There is no guarantee that if Russia leaves this niche tomorrow, it won't be occupied by American or European defense companies. The impossible becomes possible all too often. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a former swore enemy of the West accused of supporting terrorism, can now be seen hugging French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He also hosted Tony Blair when the latter was British prime minister. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wouldn't mind visiting Libya. As a result, major Western oil companies have come back to that country; large-scale arms deals and the construction of a nuclear power plant are in the offing. Obviously, all this has happened because Tripoli changed its foreign policy, abandoned the development of weapons of mass destruction and stopped lashing out at the West. But Gaddafi is the same man; yesterday, he profited from certain things, whereas now he stands to gain from others. Time and circumstance will dictate what he will be interested in tomorrow.
Or take an example from another region: North Korea. Today the world community, including the United States, is discussing ways of helping that country, but only yesterday Washington was calling it part of the Axis of Evil. Everything is relative: friends and foes, and rules for trade in weapons. The United States supplying arms to Iran and Syria does not seem like such a fantastic notion, and as we see, regime change is not at all necessary. If such trade is profitable and politically feasible, why not go for it? We could go on and on about whether arms trafficking is ethical at all. But if it cannot be stopped, let it be controlled as much as possible by respectable salesmen, be they the United States, France or Russia. Otherwise, as Robert Gates rightly noted, the niche may be occupied by completely different players. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
War with Iran would be catastrophic - Ivanov
Russia's first deputy prime minister said Wednesday a war against Iran would lead to a catastrophe. The Islamic Republic is under UN sanctions over failure to halt uranium enrichment, and Washington has refused to rule out a military operation against Iran as a way of forcing its compliance with the demands of the global community, which fears Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons. "The Iranian problem needs to be resolved in a political and diplomatic way, as a threat of war is a road to nowhere, or to a catastrophe," Sergei Ivanov, Russia's former defense minister, said in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. The United States has reportedly been building up its Air Force and Navy contingent near the oil-rich Middle East nation, while Russian military officials have suggested that the U.S. could launch strikes on Iran's underground nuclear sites. The latest United Nations resolution on the defiant regime highlights a focus on diplomacy, but accepts the possibility of a military solution to the crisis. Ivanov admitted Tehran's "nuclear dossier" was controversial, but said the nation had the right to pursue civilian nuclear energy. He said uranium enrichment activities should be controlled by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He said Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, has offered to provide the Islamic Republic with nuclear fuel for electricity generation and to accept spent fuel back for reprocessing. Tehran has neither accepted nor rejected the proposal. Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful, said Monday it had begun producing nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, and reiterated plans to continue enlarging its nuclear fuel production capacity. Russia said it considered to announcement doubtful, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying the claim was still unsubstantiated.
MiGs Will Defend Syria and Iran
Russia has begun to implement the contract signed by Rosoboronexport with Syria this year for the delivery of five MiG-31E fighter-interceptors. That means that Russia is renewing arms deliveries to the Middle East after a hiatus due to the war in Lebanon. Iran may be the big winner from the deal, since there exists an Iranian-Syrian mutual defense agreement, and Iran is financing Damascus's purchase. Several sources in the military-industrial complex told Kommersant that OAO Nizhny Novgorod Sokol Plant has begun working on the five MiG-31E aircraft. At the beginning of the year, Rosoboronexport signed a contract with Damascus for them. Since production of the MiG-31 was halted in 1994, Syria is receiving planes from the reserve of the Russian Air Force that are being modified to the purchaser's specifications.
Vladimir Vypryazhkin, deputy general director of the state MiG Russian Aviation Construction Corp. told Kommersant yesterday that “export orders are starting to come in for the MiG-31.” He declined to identify the source of the orders, but noted that “We are offering the MiG-31E on a trade-in basis for countries that have the MiG-25 interceptor.” Only Libya and Syria have MiG-25 fighter-interceptor and recognizance plane at present. India recently retired its MiG-25s. Boris Aleshin, chairman of the Federal Industry Agency, confirmed that there is a contract for the MiG-31E. He also declined to identify the purchaser. Kommersant has learned that a lot of MiG-29M/M2 jets was sold to Syria as well. They are being sold abroad for the first time and are similar in their technical specifications to the MiG-35 model Russia is now offering India. The total value of the contract for the MiG-31 and MiG-29M/M2 aircraft is estimated at $1 billion.
Several questions are raised by the deal. First, where Syria got the money for such expensive weapons. In the winter of 2005, Russia wrote off 70 percent of Syria's foreign debt, which was $13.4 billion at the time. Under that agreement, Syria's debt to Russia was reduced to $3.6 billion. Russia renewed military-technical cooperation with Syrian at the same time. Information has arisen regularly since the beginning of 2005 that Syria is in negotiations with Russia for the purchase of new weapons. First Iskander-E missiles were mentioned. Russian President Vladimir Putin even confirmed that Damascus was interested in them, but he supposedly personally blocked the deal. At the beginning of this year, unofficial information emerged that negotiations had been renewed. This time, the items of interest to Syria were Pantsir, Strelets and Igla missiles. Strelets ballistic missiles were delivered to Syria in 2005. Sergey Chemezov, general director of Rosoboronexport, stated in January of this year that “the Syrians want our Igla complex, but we won't give it to them.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad was in Moscow in December of last year for negotiations with Putin, at which Syria's desire to replace its aging MiG-25 planes with new MiG-29 or MiG-31 models. Western experts think that one of the reasons for Syria's spending spree may be that it is buying weapons for not only for itself, or not for itself at all. Moscow and Damascus concluded a contract last year for the delivery of 36 Pantsir-S1E artillery missile systems. In May of this year, the authoritative British Jane's Defence Weekly reported that at least ten of those Pantsirs would be handed over to Iran by the end of 2008. According to that publication, Iran is the main sponsor of the deal and is paying Syria for its services as intermediary.
There is still no official conformation of the deal described, but the cooperation scheme between Syria and Iran is perfectly believable. Tehran and Damascus are linked by a number of agreements on mutual defense. A Syrian-Iranian strategic alliance was wrought in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war. In recent years, Syria and Iran have signed a whole series of agreements on closely coordinated defense activities. In February 2005, for example, almost simultaneously with Russia's forgiveness of much of Syria's debt to it, Syrian Prime Minister Naji Otari and Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref signed a mutual defense pact and, in July 2006, the defense ministers of the two countries, Hasan Turkmani and Mostafa Mohammad Najar, signed an agreement creating a high defense commission and one on military cooperation that envisaged Iranian financing of Syrian arms deals with Russia, Ukraine and China.
Iran's interest in Russian arms is explained by the conflict developing between it and the United States and the likelihood of armed conflict in the region. In the USSR, the MiG-31 was considered a key element in the defense against a potential attack from the U.S. It was to knock out American cruise missiles flying over the North Pole. The usefulness of that Soviet technology in a potential conflict between the U.S. and Iran is debatable. In the event of a war, Iran's chances of an air victory are negligible, no matter what weapons they buy.
The MiG-31 would do more good for Syria. Head of the Technology and National Security Program at the Holon Institute of Technology and Israeli Air Force Col. (Res.) Shmuel Gordon told Kommersant that “This is the first serious modernization of the Syrian antiaircraft and antimissile system in ten years. It will most likely seriously limit the Israeli Air Force's freedom of action. The appearance of those planes means that the Syrians can take down Israeli planes over the Golan Heights or Lebanon. That is to say this is a quantitative leap in Syria's ability to wage an air war.” Gordon also thought that five planes was but the tip of the iceberg. “It makes little sense to limit oneself to five planes. Where there's five, there will soon be 20, and maybe 24, planes. Maintenance of the planes is very expensive, but it makes no difference whether you maintain five or 20 of them.” Former head of the Israeli Air Force Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliahu agrees with him. “That can influence the actions of the Israeli Air Force somewhat, but the influence will not be significant. It does not at all change the fact of Israel's absolute air superiority. However, if the number of Syria's planes is increased, that could change the situation. The most dangerous thing for Israel's security is not the delivery of five planes but the renewal of deliveries.”
According to Knesset member and former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Yuval Steinitz, “It cannot be said that a specific deal is a threat to Israel's security, but the main danger is that it is a matter of a whole package of deals that gradually adds up.” Last year, Israel alleged to Moscow in confidential negotiations that some of the arms it sold to Syria fell into the hands of the Hezbollah and being used in the war in Lebanon last summer. The sale of Russian jets to Syria will undoubtedly have repercussions in the West. Moscow is not likely to be concerned with American criticism at the moment, since the main problem in U.S.-Russian relations is the U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Now the two issues may be discussed together. Iran's position on the missile defense system can be considered indirect confirmation that it is deriving some sort of benefit from the present deal. When Putin suggested to U.S. President George W. Bush that they counter the Iranian threat by using the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan together, Tehran unexpectedly announced that it does not consider Russia's proposal hostile and that it will not affect Russia's good relations with Iran.
What is the MiG-31?
Development of the MiG-31 supersonic fighter-interceptor (Foxhound in NATO classification) was begun by the Mikoyan Experimental Design Bureau in 1968. The first test flights were performed in 1977 and it went into service in 1981. The airplane was first created to defend the USSR from cruise missile attacks from the Arctic. A number of weapons systems were used for the first time in the USSR in the MiG-31, including the R-33 long-distance (about 120 km.) air-to-air guided missile and the Zaslon radar system, capable of locating its target at a distance of 180 km. and both guide missiles to it and relay the information to other aircraft and ground facilities.
The MiG-31 has a two-man crew. Its combat radius is 720 km. (1400 km. with external fuel tanks), maximum speed 3000 km./hr. and operational ceiling of 20,600 m. It has a flight weight of 41 tons. Besides missiles, the plane is armed with a 23-mm. gun and two or four short- or medium-range missiles. The MiG-31 was produced at the Sokol plant in Nizhny Novgorod until 1994. More than 500 planes were produced. There are about 300 of them in the Russian Air Force at present and about 40 in Kazakhstan. Several modifications of the plane have been developed, including the MiG-31M (with a new 320-km. radar system) and MiG-31F (capable of striking ground targets). The MiG-31 has not been used in combat and has not been exported. There were media reported in the early 1990s of interest from Syria, Libya and China in acquiring the aircraft, but no contracts for it were signed.
Russian died reporting on arms sales to Iran, Syria
A journalist who plunged to his death from his apartment building window faced threats while reporting on a sensitive story that Russia planned to sell sophisticated missiles to Syria and Iran, his newspaper reported Tuesday. Ivan Safronov, a military affairs writer for the daily Kommersant, died Friday after plunging from a stairwell window between the fourth and fifth stories. Kommersant reported Tuesday that Safronov had told his editors he was working on a story about Russian plans to sell weapons to Iran and Syria via Belarus. The deals, if concluded, could upset the balance of power in the Middle East and strain Russia's relations with Israel and the United States, which strongly objected to earlier Russian weapons sales to the two countries. Kommersant reported that Safronov, 51, had recently told colleagues he was warned he would face a criminal investigation for possibly releasing state secrets if he reported allegations that Russia had struck a deal to supply Iskander missiles to Syria. "Ivan Safronov said he was not going to write about it for a while because he was warned that it would create a huge international scandal and the FSB (Federal Security Service) would launch a criminal case on charges of breaching state secrets," the newspaper said. Safronov did not say where the warning came from, according to Kommersant, but he had repeatedly been questioned by the FSB — the KGB's main successor agency. Prosecutors have said nothing about Safronov's death, except that they are investigating it as a suicide. The death comes amid a rash of attacks on journalists who write about official corruption, Chechnya and other abuses and amid fears that, under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is backsliding toward authoritarianism. Investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin critic, was shot dead in Moscow in October. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said that 13 journalists have been killed in contract-style murders since Putin took office in 2000.