Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 187

The Russians have placed great store on foreign sales of their sophisticated S-300 air defense missile system, which they claim is far superior to the comparable U.S. Patriot system. Both are designed to destroy medium- and short-range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft. Last Friday the Greek government chose the Patriot over the S-300 and announced a US$1.2 billion deal to buy four Patriot batteries with options on two more. Perhaps by way of giving a consolation prize to the Russians, the Greeks decided to also buy twenty-one Tor-M1 medium-range air defense missiles systems in a deal said to be worth some US$100 million. The Tor is built by Antei, one of several Russian defense firms authorized to bypass the official arms export agency Rosvooruzhenie when selling to foreign governments. A spokesman for Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov announced on Saturday that a delegation from Antei would fly to Greece today to work out details of the contract (Russian and foreign media, October 7-10).

The Russians had thought that the Greeks might be their best prospect in NATO for the S-300 since the controversial 1997 sale of this system to the Greek-Cypriot government on Cyprus, but they also realized that the U.S. might pressure the Greeks to buy the Patriot. The Cypriot deal threw the Russians right in the middle of the perennial disputes between Turkey and Greece and drew the ire of the U.S. and most other NATO nations as an act that might destabilize a very sensitive region. Rosvooruzhenie and foreign ministry officials have repeatedly insisted that the missiles would be delivered to Cyprus, but the scheduled delivery date is long past. A Greek sale might have given the Russians a face-saving way to back out of the Cypriot deal.