Russia's President Vladimir Putin has turned down a request by Iran to purchase the advanced S-400 missile defense system, Bloomberg reported on May 30, quoting two Russian officials who chose to remain unidentified.
Reports from Russia also picked up by media in Iran's neighbour Turkey say Putin has rejected the request over concerns about rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region where several Arab leaders voiced their concern about Iran's military ambitions.
This comes while according to Hurriet daily newspaper, the delivery of S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey is going ahead according to schedule, Hurriet quoted Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on May 29.
There is still no reaction from Iran or Russia to the news of Iran's request for buying the S-400 systems being rejected.
Zarif visited Moscow in early May but the purchase of S-400 was not on his declared agenda. Russian officials reportedly said they were not authorized to comment on the matter.
Iran currently has the previous model of the air defense system S-300. The sale of that system was delayed several times although Iran claimed it had paid for it beforehand. Russia finally delivered the S-300 to Iran after Iran threatened to take the case to international tribunals.
Regional and world powers are sensitive to issues surrounding the purchase of advanced air defense systems. Currently, Turkey, a NATO member and a U.S. ally, is risking punitive measures by the Trump administration for considering to add the system to its air defense grid.
Iran's case is even more complicated with tensions between Iran and the United States escalating and as regional countries are seriously concerned about Iran's intentions, particularly after recent attacks on shipping in the Sea of Oman and Houthi drone attacks against Saudi targets. U.S., Saudi and other Arab states blame Iran for the attacks, accusing Tehran of attempting to destabilize the regain for political and economic gain. Nevertheless, Iranian officials have denied any involvement in the attacks.
Russia's refusal of Iran's request is in spite of Tehran and Moscow's alliance in the war in Syria. They have been strategic partners in Syria since 2011 in the campaign to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from that country's civil war.
How this will affect relations between Iran and Russia is not clear, although there are reportedly some tensions between the two in Syria. Iran suffering under sanction and regionally isolated can hardly afford to risk its relations with Moscow, even if it is denied the S-400.
However, analysts attribute Putin's decision to turn down Iran's request to various factors including Moscow's interest in keeping the chance to negotiate with the Trump administration. “Any real or imaginary strengthening of Iran can lead to escalation -- if Russia really refused Iran such a request, it would mean that Russia wants to keep working on relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel and keep a chance for negotiations with Trump,” Bloomberg quoted Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Center of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow as saying.
Pukhov added that if Russia provides Iran with S-400s, it will be seen as a direct challenge to Saudi Arabia and Israel, something Russia does not fancy.
Iran's attempt to buy the S-400 system oddly followed boastful comments by its military commanders in May about its new "top secret" weapons that can tackle any target.
The S-400 air and missile defense system has a range of up to 400 kilometers.