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Sold: Russian S-400 Missile Defense Systems to China

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Asia Defense

Sold: Russian S-400 Missile Defense Systems to China

China will become the first foreign buyer of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system.

Sold: Russian S-400 Missile Defense Systems to China

Russia may have just lifted its ban on supplying Iran with S-300s, but it has also reached a deal to supply China with the S-400 Triumf missile defense system. The S-400, an upgraded version of the S-300, had previously only been available to the Russian Ministry of Defense. China will be the first foreign buyer.

The S-400, which is manufactured by Almaz-Antey, has been in service in Russia since 2007. The sophisticated air defense system is capable of firing three types of missiles, creating a layered defence, and can simultaneously engage 36 targets. The system is able to shoot down aircraft–manned and unmanned–and missiles–ballistic and cruise–within a range of 400 km (248.5 miles).

Last April, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved of the principle of selling the systems to China. As Zachary Keck wrote at the time:

Despite the ongoing talks, some had felt that Russia would ultimately refuse to sell China the S-400 surface-to-air missile system for a number of reasons. First, there were reports that Russia planned to withhold all foreign sales of the S-400 until Moscow’s own military needs had been satisfied, sometime later this decade. More importantly, there were widespread concerns in Russian military circles that China would purchase a few of the systems with the intent of stealing the technology and reverse engineering a domestic version.

It seems Russia has decided to go through with the deal despite these concerns. The details of the actual deal have not been revealed, but reports in November indicated that China “had signed a $3 billion contract for at least six S-400 divisions, which have about eight missile launchers each.”

Anatoly Isaikin, CEO of Russia’s arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, commented in an interview published Monday by Kommersant that China being the first foreign buyer “can only emphasize the strategic level of our relationship.”

While it may be easy to view this sale as a new stage in the burgeoning relations between Russia and China, it’s nothing really new. As of 2008, China fielded approximately 40 S-300PMU systems, as well as 60 HQ-15/18s, a Chinese-built version. That China is the first foreign buyer for S-400 was something of an inevitability.

Still, the re-kindling of Russia and China’s friendship worries some, especially in light of Russia’s schism with Europe and the United States over Ukraine. Their reinvigorated ties span not just military technology but include vast energy deals.

Last May, Russia and China settled a gas deal worth $400 billion. Under the deal Russia will supply China with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, for 30 years, via the eastern “Power of Siberia” pipeline. A second deal, announced in November of last year, made waves but as Bloomberg View pointed out: “the deal seems to be little more than an effort to ensure that Putin did not leave China empty-handed.”

The second gas deal, the parameters of which China says will be settled later this year, aims to supply the energy-hungry country with gas from western Siberian fields. The difference between this deal and the first is that the second would lead “to a pipeline that will, for the first time, allow Russia to choose between exporting gas to Asia or to Europe,” whereas the May 2014 deal involved gas that could only economically be sold in Asia.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, in a March press conference, said the energy deals with Russia were part of China’s One Belt, One Road strategy for increasing engagement and trade with its neighbors.