Rus­sia’s mis­sile de­fense sys­tem lures al­lies from Amer­i­can weapons

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

It may be Rus­sia’s most suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary ex­port since the Kalash­nikov — at least at driv­ing a wedge be­tween the U.S. and some key al­lies.

The S-400 ad­vanced mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, which has been a linch­pin pro­tect­ing Moscow’s mil­i­tary bases on the bat­tle­fields of Syria, is at­tract­ing re­newed in­ter­est from coun­tries such as In­dia and Turkey — pit­ting Rus­sia against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drive to boost com­pet­ing U.S. de­fense sales.

Since en­ter­ing the Rus­sian arse­nal in 2007, the S-400 Tri­umph air de­fense sys­tem, which is also known by the NATO moniker SA-21 Growler, has quickly as­sumed the man­tle as Moscow’s pre­mier anti-air­craft mis­sile sys­tem. Touted as a di­rect com­peti­tor to the Amer­i­can­made PAC-3 Pa­triot air de­fense mis­sile sys­tem and the Ter­mi­nal High-Al­ti­tude Area De­fense or THAAD — the main bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense sys­tem fielded by U.S. forces, the S-400 is the ben­e­fi­ciary of an in­creas­ingly ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing cam­paign from Moscow.

The S-400’s per­for­mance in the Rus­sian mis­sion sup­port­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad is prov­ing a ma­jor sell­ing point, Rus­sian mil­i­tary con­trac­tors say.

“The de­mand is rather sig­nif­i­cant af­ter the Syr­ian events,” Alexan­der Mikheyev, CEO of Rus­sian weapons firm Rosoborone­x­port, told the Tass news ser­vice last month. He said talks with other po­ten­tial ex­port cus­tomers are ac­cel­er­at­ing.

Moscow De­fense Brief, a Moscow­based pub­li­ca­tion that mon­i­tors Rus­sian mil­i­tary de­vel­op­ments, said coun­tries such as Al­ge­ria, Be­larus, Iran and Viet­nam are eye­ing the S-400 and that the sur­face-to-air mis­sile de­fense sys­tem could bring in up to $30 bil­lion in sales over the next 15 years.

Rosoborone­x­port re­cently an­nounced that it will stop con­duct­ing its ex­port deals in U.S. dol­lars, al­low­ing pur­chasers to use lo­cal cur­ren­cies.

Moscow has ramped up its mar­ket­ing of the weapon to for­eign mil­i­taries, in­clud­ing those with long-stand­ing mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ties with Wash­ing­ton, de­spite a threat from the State Depart­ment that buy­ers of the S-400 face U.S. sanc­tions.

Moscow has racked up a se­ries of S-400 sales to China, a near-peer com­peti­tor to the U.S. that is ac­tively look­ing for sys­tems to counter Amer­i­can THAAD de­ploy­ments on the Korean Penin­sula.

Bei­jing claims THAAD is a threat to the coun­try’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­ter­rent and is also re­port­edly ey­ing the S-400 in a bid to curb Amer­i­can and al­lied ef­forts to con­tain its am­bi­tions in the South China Sea.

Rus­sia has also tar­geted Turkey, a NATO mem­ber, and held dis­cus­sions with other U.S. al­lies such as Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia, whose mil­i­tary and diplo­matic re­la­tion­ships with Wash­ing­ton are com­ing un­der in­creas­ing strain.

Ten­sions reached a head with Ankara over the pro­posed Turk­ish deal last month when Congress voted to block sales of the next-gen­er­a­tion F-35 fighter jet to Turkey in op­po­si­tion to its deal to buy the S-400.

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who is feud­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump on a num­ber of fronts, af­firmed last year that his govern­ment was pro­ceed­ing with the es­ti­mated $2.5 bil­lion pur­chase de­spite Amer­i­can reser­va­tions. Turk­ish work­ers re­port­edly have been busy pre­par­ing a site that will host the Rus­sian mis­sile de­fense sys­tem.

The Pen­tagon and pri­vate de­fense an­a­lysts fear Ankara’s de­ci­sion to field the Rus­sian-made anti-air­craft mis­sile sys­tem will draw Turkey deeper into Moscow’s grow­ing sphere of in­flu­ence in the Mid­dle East.

Re­tired Adm. James G. Stavridis, a for­mer supreme al­lied com­man­der of NATO, warned that the will­ing­ness of U.S. al­lies to con­sider the S-400 is dis­con­cert­ing.

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