Don’t count on Russia in opposing Iran
WINEP published Will Russia Help the United States with Iran? by Mark N. Katz
To me, this reminds Russia I know (expletives omitted here, emphasis added below).
Russia’s recent decision not to sell the S-300 antiaircraft missile system to Iran (at least for now) raised hopes that Moscow would cooperate more fully in the effort to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Recent statements from Russian leaders indicating that they were on board with the U.S. strategy further buoyed optimism. Despite these promising signs, however, there is strong reason to doubt that Moscow’s cooperation will continue.
Like Europe, Israel, the United States, and most Arab governments, Russia does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The expectation that this will lead to joint Russian-American cooperation, however, is seriously mistaken. Moscow does not want Iran to either voluntarily renounce or be forcefully prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons if — as Moscow fears — this results in a diminution of Russia’s value to Iran as a protector or partner. Even a nuclear-armed Iran would be preferable to Moscow than this prospect.
Moscow has little interest in working with Washington to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for two important reasons:
First, Moscow has reasonably good — though not untroubled — relations with Tehran. Russian firms profit from selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, and Russian petroleum firms are actively seeking to invest in the Iranian oil and gas sectors. Moscow is also deeply appreciative that Tehran has not supported Chechen or other Muslim rebels in Russia, or challenged Moscow’s influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Moscow does not want to jeopardize any of this by seriously cooperating with Washington against Tehran. What Moscow would prefer instead is that others — the United States, Europe, Israel, or some combination — take the lead in confronting Tehran on the nuclear issue. If they succeed in getting Iran to halt its efforts, then Russia gains by avoiding the strategic challenge of having another nuclear power in its neighborhood. But if they fail to halt this activity, Moscow prefers that these actors — and not Russia — be the focus of Iran’s ire. This is especially true if Iran actually acquires nuclear weapons.
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