Putin says report Russia to sell Iran advanced spy satellite is ‘garbage’

Israeli officials express concern following report of sale in Washington Post, amid fears move will dramatically enhance Tehran’s ability to track bases and targets in Israel

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the launch of Gazprom's Amur Gas Processing Plant via videolink at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia on June 9, 2021. (Sergei Ilyin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the launch of Gazprom's Amur Gas Processing Plant via videolink at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia on June 9, 2021. (Sergei Ilyin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denied a US media report that Moscow is set to deliver an advanced satellite system to Iran that will vastly improve its spying capabilities.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Moscow is preparing to give Iran a Kanopus-V satellite with a high-resolution camera, allowing the Islamic Republic to monitor facilities of its adversaries across the Middle East.

Putin, who is expected to hear a range of complaints from US President Joe Biden when they meet Wednesday in Geneva, dismissed the report as “garbage.”

“We have cooperation plans with Iran, including the military and technical cooperation,” he told NBC News in an interview ahead of the summit.

“It’s just fake news. At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing, those who are speaking about it probably will maybe know more about it. It’s just nonsense, garbage.”

The launch of Iran’s newest satellite-carrier rocket, called ‘Zuljanah,’ at an undisclosed location, in Iran, on February 1, 2021. (Official Website of the Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Biden, who is on his first foreign tour since entering the White House, is expected to raise a slew of complaints with Putin including over election interference and hacking purportedly linked to Russia.

The Washington Post report said that while technically a civilian satellite, it would give Iran the ability to continuously monitor sites ranging from Israeli army facilities to US military bases to Saudi oil refineries, the officials said.

Meanwhile, Israeli security officials told the Kan public broadcaster that the country was very concerned.

The unnamed official said the move would be a major step up in technical ability for the Iranians, giving them “the unprecedented ability to surveil Israeli military bases, strategic sites, potential targets across the Middle East.”

The Post reported that the satellite would be supplied in the next few months and be launched by Russia.

A Middle Eastern official told the Post that the Kanopus-V would feature Russian hardware, including a camera with a resolution of 1.2 meters — a significant improvement over Iran’s current capabilities, though still far short of the quality achieved by US spy satellites or high-end commercial satellite imagery providers.

However, Iran would be able to “task” the new satellite to spy on locations of its choosing, and as often as it wished, the officials said.

“It’s not the best in the world, but it’s high-resolution and very good for military aims,” the Middle Eastern official told the Post. “This capability will allow Iran to maintain an accurate target bank, and to update that target bank within a few hours” every day.

The official also said that Iran would be able share the images with its terror proxies across the region, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and militias operating in Iraq.

Iran has stepped up its attempts at a satellite program in recent years. In April 2020 Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched their first satellite into space, dramatically revealing what experts described as a secret military space program.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division stands in front of an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite in an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province, April 22, 2020. (Sepahnews via AP)

The Washington Post said that senior Revolutionary Guards officials have made multiple trips to Russia since 2018 to help negotiate the terms of the agreement to purchase the satellite, while Russian experts were in Iran to help train ground crews that would operate the satellite from a newly built facility near the northern city of Karaj.

The Guard, which operates its own military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces, is a hardline force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The report comes as the US is involved in indirect talks with Tehran to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, and ahead of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

In the past, the US and Israel have condemned Iran’s satellite efforts as defying a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Kan said Israel hoped that the US would address the issue of the satellite in nuclear talks. Washington wanted to expand the deal to include controls over Tehran’s ballistic missile program too, something Iran rejects.

Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. The Guard launching its own satellite calls that into question.

Russia has also defended Iran’s right to launch satellites.

Months after the launch of the Noor, Russia defended Iran’s right to launch a satellite, dismissing US claims that Tehran was defying the UN resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers by sending it into space.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said that “the ongoing attempts of the United States side to deprive Iran of the right to reap the benefits of peaceful space technology under false pretexts are a cause for serious concern and profound regret.”

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