‘Mindful Of Obligation’, Greece Reassures Russia It Would Not Transfer S-300 Missile Systems To Ukraine

Greece has reassured Russia that it is “mindful” of its obligation to refrain from transferring S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to other countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on December 28. 

The foreign minister also stressed that Moscow is closely monitoring Greece’s adherence to its contractual obligations. Lavrov noted that recent media reports indicated that Greece was ready to transfer its S-300s to Ukraine. 

In response, Russia dispatched its ambassador to the relevant Greek authorities to remind them of the agreement not to send the S-300s to other states. “They [Greek authorities] said they were mindful of that,” Lavrov said in a statement to Russian television station Channel One. 

“There was a story when they [S-300s] were to be delivered to Cyprus, but then the West started doing everything possible to prevent this,” Lavrov added. 

Given the island position of Cyprus and the fact that it was not a NATO member, the minister said that a middle ground was eventually found that pleased everyone – Greece purchased the systems. However, under the terms of the agreement, Greece has no right to transfer the S-300s to anyone without Russia’s permission.

Previously, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said the shipment of the S-300 systems to Kyiv would be “a gross violation” of the intergovernmental agreements between Russia and Greece on military-technical cooperation and the supply of military goods.

At the time, she warned that breaching contractual obligations would undoubtedly have consequences, including a deterioration in Greece’s defense capability in the field of air defense.

File Image: S-300

Meanwhile, Lavrov stated that Moscow was careful about Greece’s compliance with its obligations. The minister also emphasized that, under the pretense of assisting Ukraine, European countries have routinely engaged in illegal conduct, including breaching arms transfer commitments. 

A similar problem emerges with regulations forbidding the transfer of Russian weapons to anyone, which apply to most of the arms in Eastern Europe because they were produced under license in former Warsaw Pact nations.

Western nations have given Kyiv financial, military, and humanitarian assistance since Russia began its military operation in Ukraine on February 24. 

Moscow has criticized the transfer of arms to Ukraine from its Western friends, claiming that this adds fuel to the fire. Lavrov frequently emphasized that any shipment carrying weapons for Ukraine would become a legitimate target for Russia.

Why Is S-300 Crucial For Ukraine? 

The reports of Greece supplying the S-300 system surfaced after it was disclosed that the US is finalizing plans to arm Ukraine with Patriot missiles. Ukraine is facing intense drone and missile strikes on its towns and infrastructure. 

There are also concerns that Iran could soon provide Russia with hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles. Receiving an S-300 system would be beneficial for Ukraine because Kyiv has a lot of experience using S-300s and could put it into use immediately because it won’t need any further training or technical support.

Oleksii Reznikov, the defense minister of Ukraine, stated on December 1 that Ukraine is now in talks with the defense ministers of all nations that employ S-300s about the potential of replenishing stockpiles of missiles from their arsenals and storage facilities. 

Ukrainian S-300 missile being test-fired in 2021 before the current war. MINISTRY OF DEFENSE OF UKRAINE OFFICIAL WEBSITE

For Greece, it would be challenging to transfer the system to Ukraine. Greece only happened to acquire its S-300s in the late 1990s. Cyprus had placed the initial order for the Russian system, which had led to a protracted stalemate with Turkey. 

To avoid a war, the batteries were transferred to Crete and kept in storage. Later, Greece tested the system for the first time in 2013. In August, Turkey alleged that a Greek S-300 radar locked onto one of its F-16s as they were flying a surveillance mission in international airspace. 

If true, that incident indicates that Athens was retesting the systems or potentially bringing them into use amid rising Aegean Sea tensions with Turkey. 

The most advanced system Kyiv will likely acquire in 2023 will be the Patriots. That being said, acquiring an S-300 might also aid Ukraine in strengthening its air defenses at this crucial time when Kyiv needs all the support it can get to ward off these drone and missile bombardments.