Vladimir Putin, in a landmark visit to Tehran, on Tuesday agreed with other Caspian Sea states to endorse “peaceful” nuclear activities in the region.The Caspian States, it should be noted, include Iran - and so Putin was including Iran in that committment.
Now, the Caspian is a vast trove of wealth for the five nations who claim it - and some commentators have argued that Putin's really only interested in securing that trove before his bank-book demands he accede again to the West's push for an encirclement of Iran. I think that's short-sighted in the extreme. For one thing, it misses an important Russian motivation best put by Ezra today:
The more our aggressiveness unsettles the world, the more they'll seek curtail our hegemony, create states able to asymmetrically "balance" our threat, unite against our interests, and throw down markers signaling that we can't take international dominance for granted. Put another way: The more we scare the world, the less they'll cooperate on vanquishing countries we perceive as threatening.As I've written before, a world where there is a sole superpower which speaks about looking after everyone's interests but is essentially selfish about its own interests and is willing to make any number of exceptions to its own supposed rules for its allies is an inherently unbalanced one. To coin an analogy, having a cop around can be good - but a corrupt cop who plays favorites, looks out for his own pocket before those of the citizenry and is subject to no meaningful oversight is almost as bad as not having any cop at all. In such a situation, it is inevitable that other nations will look to create counterbalances to that superpower and will be mistrustful of said superpowers plans.
For a second, it misses what the Russian motive for agreeing to any sanctions in the first place was. As has been shown by Russian games over providing fuel for the Bushehr plant, they've spotted a nice little earner if they can block Iran's enrichment program. Iran would have little choice but to pay whatever Russia asked at that point - who else is going to sell power-plant level enriched uranium to Teheran? Moreover, a guaranteed Russian fuel supply might well be the needed bait for Iran forgetting its own claims to more of the Caspian than is currently on offer. That would put Iran firmly in the "economic satellite state" bracket. Which, it should be noted, is Putin's preferred method of empire-building rather than the tanks and soldiers of the Soviet past.
an economically resurgent Russia views the Iran standoff as another opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic ground it lost after the Soviet collapse. It is pushing back against the U.S. because it sees Washington's power as having been used to decimate Moscow's influence in the former Soviet territories it considers its backyard. That strategic orientation has led Russia to make common cause with other regimes at odds with Washington, most important among them China; ironically, perhaps, Moscow and Beijing are more closely aligned now, against U.S. power, than they were during the Cold War, when their respective Communist Parties were at loggerheads.The London Times thinks Putin has now sunk any chance for further sanctions - suggesting that Iranian claims of a final deal being struck behind the scenes for enriched fuel are true - and also notes that Iran's nuclear program isn't being considered in isolation by Putin vis-a-vis his dealings with America:
His discussions about co-operation over Caspian Sea energy resources, and likely talks about the completion of a Russian-made nuclear power plant at Bushehr, signal that meaningful sanctions are no longer realistic. The only option left would be unilateral sanctions of the type already imposed by America against Tehran with little effect.The Times also cautions, however, that sinking any plan for UNSC sanctions may actually push the Bush administration further towards an attack on Iran.
Some today have asked whether Russia is mad enough to intercede militarily if the Cheneyites succeed in getting their oft-wished-for war with Iran. Perhaps a better question would be: are even the Cheneyites mad enough to push that war forward if there's any chance at all that Russia might defend it's satellite Iran?