In recent days, the media has been reporting that investors are lining up to gain access to Iran as the prospect of a nuclear deal becomes all the more real. But not everyone’s content with just standing in line – least of all Russian President Vladimir Putin. Between outlawing political memes and stealing the show in TIME’s 2015 reader poll (take that, K-pop), the Russian leader found time to sign a decree to deliver S-300 missiles to Iran – effectively lifting the ban on the sale of missiles to the Islamic state.
What’s behind Putin’s widely-reported gesture, touted as one of “good will”? Some outlets decided to probe deeper, many concluding that there’s just as much in the contract for Russia – both strategically and financially – as there is for Iran.
On CNBC, Matt Clinch wrote the Russian leader had “resurrected” the missile contract to ensure that Moscow doesn’t “delay” and lose “Iran’s large market” to “Washington and its allies.” In a similar vein, Bloomberg viewed the missile contract as “underscoring” Moscow’s wish to “bolster an ally, stymie regional adversaries and open business opportunities” – showing that despite the significant losses caused to Russia by the nuclear deal, its “strategic benefits” outweigh any financial considerations.
On The Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib raised “three simple questions” by which to judge the merits of the deal – and concluded that any discussion of Iran’s capacity for change remain “fluid” due to “wild cards” like Putin, whose “interpretation” of the deal apparently involves supplying, in the words of The Washington Post, “rapidly deployable and highly lethal” missiles to Tehran rather than inducing change that would reduce its “paranoia.”
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the S-300 system was “completely defensive,” some concern over the move was registered in both Washington and Berlin, with German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier pointedly saying (in comments that were not very widely reported) that it was “too early to talk about rewards.”
But is the issue about rewards and punishments or about Iranian threats to regional security? Or about real change in Iran?
Unsurprisingly, Iran hailed the missile contract as a “very effective” step towards “lasting security” in the region. Yet another sign that Moscow’s (and Tehran’s…) interpretation of the deal could put a spoke in the wheel of Iranian change?