Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 215

Russia’s domestic counter-intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), announced on November 14 that it had arrested an Iranian citizen whom it claimed to have caught "red-handed" trying to procure plans for Russian missile technology. According to a report by NTV, the arrest occurred in Moscow following a two-week investigation that revealed the Iranian national to have been contacting Russian defense employees and inviting them to lecture in Iran. "[They had agreed] beforehand which missile parts the ‘lecturer’ would take drawings of," NTV said. The FSB suggested that the arrest had also shed light on other efforts by "foreign individuals and organizations aimed at obtaining dual-purpose materials and technologies," but the agency provided no details as to what those activities might involve.

Reports regarding the status of the arrested Iranian and the likely disposition of his case were conflicting. The FSB originally claimed that he was an Iranian diplomat who, because of diplomatic immunity, had been promptly deported to Tehran following his detention. But the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, and Russia’s own Foreign Ministry, denied on November 15 that the man had immunity. The Iranian Embassy claimed that he was a student at Moscow State University, while a Russian Foreign Ministry official identified him as a member of the administrative and technical staff at the Iranian Embassy. The Russian official also said that the Iranian was still in Russia, and that he would be expelled soon. He provided no explanation as to why a foreign national lacking diplomatic immunity would not be prosecuted in Russia.

The FSB hailed the arrest as proof of the effectiveness of its efforts to prevent "illegal exports of technology, scientific and technological information, and services used in creating mass destruction weapons, arms, and military technologies." The Kremlin’s chief press spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, made the same claim. He told reporters that "this incident shows once again that there are no grounds whatsoever for accusations made by… the U.S. and Israel that Russia is allegedly assisting Iran in creating its own missile technology." (Reuter, AP, Russian agencies, November 14-15)

Indeed, the arrest occurs at a remarkably auspicious time for Moscow. Israeli officials have repeatedly charged that large numbers of Russian specialists are secretly involved in an Iranian effort to develop ballistic missiles, and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov was told during a recent visit to the Middle East that Israel would oppose an enhanced peace-making role for Moscow in the region so long as this cooperation continued. The same charges, meanwhile, have been voiced in the U.S., and have generated threats that sanctions could be leveled on Russian companies involved in providing Iran with missile technology.

The arrest appears to have had no immediate negative repercussions on Russian-Iranian relations. On November 15, in Moscow, Iran’s Oil Minister signed a memorandum of cooperation with the deputy chairman of the Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom. (ORT, November 15) The document advances a French-Russian-Malaysian deal to develop a major Iranian gas field. The project has been adamantly opposed by the U.S.

Russian Defense Chief Cautious on Land Mine Ban.