Russian Missile Exports to Iran – The 1998 Moscow Summit

August 31, 1998
Compiled by Dr. Fred Wehling and Dr. Scott Parrish

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The Russian government insists there has been no significant transfer of missile technology to Tehran, although it admits that Iran has actively tried to acquire Russian technology and that some individual Russian specialists may have worked in the Iranian missile program. Russian officials have repeatedly insisted that Russia is fulfilling its obligations under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)[1,2] and President Yeltsin has “categorically denied” US allegations of supplying Iran with missile components and technologies.[3] Nevertheless, reports continue to surface in both Russian and Western media (with many Western reports based largely on leaked Israeli and US intelligence assessments) suggesting the Russian government has either turned a blind eye to the activities of Russian defense firms in this area, or has actually assisted their efforts. Available information does not resolve whether transferring missile technology to Iran is an official policy, or merely an activity carried out by individual companies, possibly in collusion with corrupt officials. However, together with recent revelations about a 1995 sale of Russian missile guidance components to Iraq and the deleterious effects of Russia’s continuing economic crisis in the defense sector, reports of the transfer of missile technology raise concerns over the possibility of Russian government involvement at some level as well as lax enforcement of export controls.

It should be noted that many reports of Russian transfers of missile technology or materials often quote unnamed US or Israeli intelligence sources. While this should not lead one to discount the reports automatically, the possibility that reports relying on such sources may be politically motivated should be kept in mind. In any event, no legal exports of missile components or related equipment from Russia to Iran have been officially acknowledged. The more serious allegations of unlicensed exports involve guidance and engine components, high-strength steel and special alloys, and manufacturing and test equipment. Additionally, two Russian defense firms are known to have sent specialists to Iran, and reports indicate Iranian students have received training in missile technology at Russian technical institutes. In July 1998, the Russian Government Commission on Export Control launched an investigation of nine companies and institutions suspected of violating Russian export control laws. Under pressure from the US Congress to take action, the Clinton administration penailzed seven of these companies with trade sanctions.[4] However, the list of enterprises investigated by the Russian government does not include several large and influential organizations–including the Russian Space Agency; Rosvooruzheniye, the state-owned arms export company; and the Federal Security Service–that Western and Israeli sources have charged with complicity in covert transfers of Russian missile technology to Iran.[5,6]

Reports and commentary in the Israeli press charged that Russian technology was incorporated into the Shahab-3 missile that Iran tested in July 1998.[7,8] Iranian officials, however, denied that Russia cooperated with Iran in production of the missile.[9] Iran’s defense minister further claimed that the Shahab-3 was developed “without help from any foreign country,”[10] but this claim is fallacious; most experts agree that the Shahab-3 is essentially a North Korean Nodong medium-range ballistic missile with few, if any, modifications.[11,12,13] Nevertheless, the possibility that Russian technology or know-how may have been used to enhance the performance of the Shahab-3, or to enable Iran to manufacture some components domestically, reinforces the need for Russia to maintain and fully implement its commitment to control the proliferation of ballistic missile technology.

[1] Mikhail Kirillin, Rossiyskaya gazeta, 20 May 1998, p. 7; in “Dual-Purpose Exports to Iran Denied,” FBIS-TAC-98-140.
[2] “Utverzhdeniya o peredache Rossiyei Iranu raket i raketnykh tekhnologiy ne imeyut dostatochnykh osnovaniy,” Voprosy bezopasnosti, no. 14, 30 September 1997.
[3] Interfax, 26 September 1997; in “Yeltsin Rejects US Nuclear, Missile Iran Transfer Charge,” FBIS-SOV-97-269.
[4] White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Statement by the President Expanding the President’s Executive Order on Weapons of Mass Destruction,” 28 July 1998.
[5] Bill Gertz, “Russia, China Aid Iran’s Missile Program,” Washington Times, 10 September 1997, p. A1.
[6] Steve Rodan, “Secret Israeli Data Reveals Iran Can Make Missile in Year, Defense News, 6-12 October 1997, p. 4.
[7] Ze’ev Schiff, “After the Iranian Test,” Ha’aretz, 29 July 1998, p. B1.
[8] Arieh O’Sullivan and Liat Collins, “Iran Expected to Complete Shahab-3 Prototype Next Year,” Jerusalem Post, 29 July 1998,
[9] IRNA (Tehran), 4 August 1998; in “IRGC Commander Reveals Shahab-3 Missile’s Size, Capability,” FBIS-TAC-98-218.
[10] “Iran Confirms Test-Firing of Missile,” Washington Post, 26 July 1988, p. A27.
[10] U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 23 July 1998, US State Department website,
[11] Tim Weiner, Iran Said to Test Missile Able to Hit Israel and Saudis, New York Times, 23 July 1998.
[12] Steven Erlanger, Washington Casts Wary Eye at Missile Test, New York Times, 24 July 1998. {entered 8/17/98 FW}

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Summary Table

Category Status Exports Manufacturer Exporter Recipient
Components intercepted 21 tons of maraging steel unknown, possibly Inor Production
MOSO; Yevropalas 2000 unknown
intercepted composite material used
for ballistic missile warheads
NII Grafit unknown unknown
cancelled turbopumps for RD-214 (SS-4)
liquid fuel rocket engine
Samara State Scientific
and Production Enterprise-NK Engines
Samara State Scientific
and Production Enterprise-NK Engines
alleged components of RD-214 (SS-4)
liquid fuel rocket engine
NPO Trud, NPO Energomash unknown unknown
alleged unpecified missile guidance
Polyus Scientific Research
unknown unknown
alleged 620kg of special alloys
and foils
Inor Production Association Rosvooruzheniye unknown
Manufacturing and testing alleged wind tunnel and related
Russian Central Aerohydrodynamic
Institute (TsAGI)
Rosvooruzheniye unknown
alleged unspecified msissile manufacturing
Inor Production Association Rosvooruzheniye unknown
alleged measurement equipment used
in rocket engine tests
NPO Trud unknown unknown
Training and know-how suspended training of Iranian students
in missile design
n/a Baltic State Technical University,
Moscow Aviation Institute
Sanam Industries Group
suspended missile specialists traveled
to Iran under false documents
n/a Komintern Plant, Tikhomirov
unknown training of Iranian students
in missile design
n/a Bauman Moscow State Technical
unknown suspected transfer of dual-use
n/a Glavkosmos unknown
alleged recruitment of Russian experts
to work on Iranian missile projects
n/a Federal Security Service

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