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Russia enters the GCC arms market with a splash 28, March 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Iran, Russia.
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I’ve been a great fan of UPI news agency for some time now. It seems to have an unusually acute coverage of the Middle East, often picking up on stories that otherwise get missed, which it combines with professional analysis.

Their latest little gem is about Saudi Arabia’s potential purchase of Russian air defence systems. Whilst this may not appear that unusual, there are various interesting points to note about this.

– So far it is believed that Saudi might be seeking to buy as much as $4 billion worth of Russia’s S-300PMU air defence system. Some think, however, that Riyadh might prefer to wait for Russia’s more advanced S-400 system which has a range of 250 miles and the ability to counter sophisticated missile countermeasures. Russia is believed, however, to prefer to use the first few batches of S-400s domestically.

– Additionally, notions of Saudi buying 30 Mi-35 assault helicopters, up to 120 Mi-17 transports, 150 T-90 main battle tanks and 250 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles are being mooted, according to UPI.

– It would be quite unusual for Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from Russia. Not only because of its heavy reliance on American and European weapons suppliers but because of questions surrounding the interoperability of Western and Russian systems.

– The most interesting aspect of this deal is that some see Saudi buying these weapons to make sure that Russia do not sell similar S-300 air defence systems to Iran. UPI writes that Russia ought to have delivered 5 highly effective S-300 batteries to Iran according to existing contracts though it has not claiming ‘technical difficulties’, which seems like the thinnest of veneers for US and international pressure. The UPI article sees Iran’s expulsion of Russian pilots recently as an angry reaction aimed at Moscow.