Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 83

The director of the Russian state arms trading company Rosvooruzhenie announced on April 28 that Russia will deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missile complexes to the Greek Cypriot government in August. If the delivery takes place, it will consummate a $200 million deal signed in January of 1997 that has greatly exacerbated tensions between Greece and Turkey. Indeed, Ankara earlier threatened military action to stop delivery of the weapons, and the United States has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the deal. Washington argues that delivery of the S-300 could further destabilize the already volatile situation in the region. The April 28 announcement by Rosvooruzhenie comes only days before the U.S. special envoy for Cyprus, Richard Holbrooke, is to arrive on the islands in the latest attempt to restart negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. (Russian agencies, April 28; The New York Times, AP, April 29)

Russian officials have defended the deal as a strictly commercial venture. They have also argued that the S-300 is a defensive system: It will thus not alter the military balance in the region. Russian commentators, moreover, have dismissed Washington’s objections to the deal as a cynical product of efforts by U.S. arms makers to nix a big sale for Russia. The S-300 competes against the U.S. “Patriot” missile. The two will reportedly go head to head in competition for a major Greek contract. But, beyond the economics of arms dealing, the sale appears also to be part of a broader Russian effort both to inflame tensions between two NATO member states–Greece and Turkey–and to raise its own profile in the Balkans.