Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters yesterday that Moscow is prepared not only to deliver S-300 air defense complexes to Cyprus, but also to install and help to operate them. The remarks came in the midst of a five-day official visit to Greece by the Russian defense chief. A day earlier, following a meeting with Greek Cypriot Defense Minister Yiannakis Omirou, Sergeev had also guaranteed the safe transportation to Cyprus of the S-300s (Itar-Tass, October 6-7).
In January of this year Russia signed a contract to supply Cyprus with the advanced S-300 air defense missiles. The controversial deal enraged Turkey, which has threatened to stop delivery of the weapons to Cyprus and to use, if necessary, military means to ensure that they are not deployed. The missile deal has also brought rebukes from the United States, which accuses Russia of exacerbating the already tense situation on Cyprus. Amid the recriminations that have abounded over the missile sale, there have been some hints that Cyprus might be prepared to cancel the deal. Those rumors have been abetted by the fact that the original schedule for delivery of the missiles–which was to have begun in August–has apparently been put back by at least a few months. Moscow and Nicosia, however, have more generally insisted that the deal will be consummated unless serious negotiations are launched to resolve differences between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots over the status of the island.
In other comments yesterday, Sergeev said that the Russia S-300 air defense system is superior to the American-made Patriot. The makers of the two systems are currently competing for a lucrative Greek contract. Russian military and arms officials have suggested that Athens will purchase the S-300s only if objective criteria are used in awarding the contract. But they profess to be worried that political considerations–most particularly Greece’s membership in NATO–could skew the selection process and lead Athens to select the Patriot missiles. Russian defense officials say it will be no problem to make the S-300s compatible with other NATO weapons systems (Itar-Tass, October 7).
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