Russia arms sale to Iran shows economic weakness: US

A Russian army's S-300 anti-aircraft missile system launcher rolls in central St. Petersburg, on April 28, 2014, during a Victory Day parade rehearsal (AFP Photo/Olga Maltseva)

Washington (AFP) - The White House suggested Thursday that Moscow's move to lift its ban on supplying anti-aircraft systems to Iran shows the weakness of Russia's sanctions-hit economy.

This month, Russia lifted a ban on selling Iran its advanced S-300 missile system, triggering concern that this could embolden Tehran in its nuclear stand-off with the West.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated US concerns Thursday, and said the administration had spoken to senior government officials in Russia about the decision.

But he suggested Moscow may have been driven by economic desperation rather than just a desire to stir trouble for the West.

"It isn't a particular surprise that Russia may be pretty desperate to generate some income," Earnest told reporters.

"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."

Russia has been placed 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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his decision to lift the ban on supplying S-300 missiles to Iran on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed Israel's "grave concerns" over Moscow's decision, worried it could increase Iran's "aggressiveness" in the region.

Iran has said Russia could deliver sophisticated missile systems to Tehran this year.

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