Russia Delivers Missiles to Belarus

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 22, 2006; 12:52 AM

MINSK, Belarus -- Russia began delivering advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Belarus on Friday, the Belarusian defense minister said.

Russia and Belarus signed an agreement last year on the delivery of the latest and most advanced version of Russia's S-300SP surface-to-air missile system, capable of shooting down targets some 90 miles away.

Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev denied a report in the British defense journal Jane's Intelligence Digest that Belarus agreed to transfer the S-300SP missiles to Iran to defend against any possible U.S. or Israeli air strikes designed to derail what many in the West allege are its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Russia has already agreed to supply sophisticated Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Iran.

"I have no intention of commenting on this nonsense," Maltsev said. "Under the contract for the delivery of the S-300s from Russia, Belarus does not have the right to transfer these systems anywhere else."

Iranian Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi, who headed a trade delegation that traveled to Minsk, also denied that Tehran wanted to acquire the Russian S-300 missiles.

"From the viewpoint of military technology, we are self-sufficient and there is no need for us to consider buying weapons abroad," he said.

The Iranian minister said he had not met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who on Friday was also in the Belarusian capital for talks with President Alexander Lukashenko.

The missile shipment is the latest move expanding military ties between the two ex-Soviet republics. In 1996, the two nations signed a union agreement providing for close political, economic and military ties and their armed forces have held frequent joint drills.

In February, Russian air force chief Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said Russia planned to set up a permanent military air base in Belarus.

Russia has watched warily as former Soviet bloc countries bordering Belarus _ Poland, Latvia Lithuania _ have joined NATO.

Belarus, whose regime is increasingly isolated by the West, has developed close ties with Iran.

© 2006 The Associated Press