US sanctions against Russian aircraft maker Sukhoi and arms exporter Rosoboronexport over their dealings with Iran could be linked to a contract to modernize Tehran's air force jets, the Kommersant newspaper reported yesterday.
"According to sources in the military-industrial sector, Washington's move against the Russian companies is evidently a reaction to the contract agreed at the end of July by Rosoboronexport to modernize 30 Iranian Sukhoi Su-24 bombers that, in theory, could carry tactical nuclear weapons," Kommersant said.
"Sukhoi managed the contract," the economic newspaper added.
Rosoboronexport would not comment on the report, while Sukhoi on Friday denied having delivered anything to Iran for six or seven years though it made no mention of modernizing existing equipment.
Washington had appealed in vain to Russia in May not to sell Iran Tor-M1 short-range surface-to-air missile systems designed to shoot down planes, helicopters and cruise missiles.
The US on Friday announced sanctions against Moscow's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Sukhoi, two Indian companies, a Cuban entity and two North Korean firms for allegedly providing Iran with materiel that could be used to develop missile technology or weapons of mass destruction.
The move drew an angry response from Moscow, which called the punitive action "unlawful" and "unacceptable".
The sanctions, imposed under a six-year-old US law, bar US government agencies from purchasing any goods or services from, or providing any assistance to, the targeted firms.
The measures, which took effect on July 28 and will remain in place for at least two years, also outlaw the sale of sensitive military equipment, services or technologies to the companies or any of their subsidiaries.
A high-ranking Russian army official, quoted by the Ria Novosti news agency, for his part said it was "evident" that the sanctions were "a reaction to the recent success of [Russian] companies with big arms contracts with Venezuela."
On July 27, Russia announced a deal to sell 24 Sukhoi fighter jets to Venezuela as part of an arms contract worth US$3 billion dollars, despite calls by the US to reconsider the deal.
Even though Russia has no military contracts with the US, Kommersant said the sanctions could hit Sukhoi's civilian passenger aircraft plans, including a joint project with US aeronautics giant Boeing.