Russian President Vladmir Putin warned Israel Saturday against a “counterproductive” sale of weapons to Ukraine, in response to his own divisive decision to supply the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran.
“It’s the Israeli leadership’s choice,” the Russian leader said. “It’s their right to do what they think is appropriate.” But, he warned on Russian state-run media, “It will only lead to another round of conflicts, to a rise in the number of victims — and the outcome will be the same.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Putin Thursday in a failed attempt to convince the Russian president to refrain from selling the system to the Iranians.
Israeli media reported last week that Israel was mulling arms sales to Ukraine in the face of Moscow’s resolve to go through with a delivery of the S-300 system to Iran.
“Putin stressed that the S-300 missile system is purely defensive and will not pose threat to Israel or any other country in the Middle East,” the Kremlin said in a statement, according to Sputnik.
Netanyahu may head to Moscow to meet with Putin in person and urge him again not to go through with the supply to Iran, Channel 2 reported.
Putin defended his decision to sell the system to the Iranians, saying Russia’s 2010 ban against it was voluntary and not connected to other sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
US officials say the sale is more a sign of Russia’s economic woes and less a desire to cause controversy in the West.
Russia has found itself under a mounting series of sanctions from the West since it annexed Crimea last March and was then accused of supporting militants fighting Kiev’s forces in eastern Ukraine.
“It actually does indicate that Russia’s willingness to engage in a controversial transaction like this one is an indication of how weakened their economy has become,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
“It isn’t a particular surprise that Russia may be pretty desperate to generate some income,” Earnest told reporters.
Iran has said Russia could deliver sophisticated missile systems to Tehran this year.
US President Barack Obama said Friday he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran “held this long.”
Obama noted that Putin had previously suspended the sale “at our request. I am frankly surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons.”
Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.