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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Promise on Iran Stirs Trouble at Home

The controversial problem of Russian arms exports to the Third World was one of the key issues of the Russian-American summit last week in Washington. The United States has long tried to halt Russia's arms trade with various countries with anti-American regimes. Most importantly, they object to Iran and North Korea, countries which -- unlike Iraq and Libya -- are not the object of any UN sanctions.

Last week it appeared that American pressure had yielded yet another success: President Boris Yeltsin decided to cease arms sales to Iran. He stated that "no new contracts, no new supplies, no new shipments of weapons" would be made to Iran after existing contracts are fulfilled.

These were strong words, but President Bill Clinton was obviously unimpressed. He said that "only a conceptual agreement in principle on how we would proceed" had been reached.

Since 1989, the Soviet Union (later, Russia) agreed to supply Iran with 40 MiG-29 fighter-bombers, three Kilo-type submarines and several hundred T-72 tanks, which were intended to replace Iran's losses during its war with Iraq in the 1980s. The majority of these weapons, worth about $2 billion, have already been supplied.

However, the existing contracts go beyond merely providing these weapons and include additional services such as the provision of spare parts, ammunition, servicing and the training of personnel. Without spare parts and guided missiles, for example, the Iranian MiG-29s will soon turn into a pile of useless scrap metal.

Clearly, these obligations to maintain the military capability of the arms provided to Iran will be met.

It is likely that Yeltsin's announcement will produce an even more hostile reaction in Russia than it got in Washington. Russian arms dealers and producers had counted on Iran to be one of the basic partners of Russia's military-industrial complex. After all, in addition to the planes supplied by the Soviet Union and Russia, as many as 200 Iraqi jets of Soviet manufacture fled to Iran during the Gulf War. Russian producers had hoped to strike deals with Iran concerning servicing these planes.

One of Russia's leading helicopter designers told me last week that he was shocked by Yeltsin's announcement. It will affect not just military contracts but also on-going negotiations on supplying Iran with civil equipment and technology that could be used for military purposes -- such as helicopters.

Moreover, the decision "creates a dangerous precedent when it is not the UN Security Council, but Washington that decides with whom Russia can trade and with whom it cannot."

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.