The Bush administration has tried everything to drive a wedge between Iran and Russia – to no avail. The Obama administration now has to deal with some pretty established facts on the ground. In the first part of this report, Pepe Escobar analyzes the implications of the complex relationship between close allies Iran and Russia, articulated in three fronts: nuclear, energy security and weapons.
PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: By Putin’s own framework, it’s also very clear in Moscow that a possible Israeli strike would make it lose a profitable nuclear client, Iran, on top of a diplomatic debacle for Russia. Medvedev is pursuing the same two-pronged strategy inaugurated by Vladimir Putin: stressing to Americans and Europeans that Russia does not want nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, while stressing to Tehran that it needs Russia more than ever. So as long as the Iranian nuclear program is not finished, Russia can always play the wise-moderating role between Iran and the West. To build up a civilian nuclear program in Iran is very good business for both Iran and Russia for a number of reasons. First of all, both are militarily encircled. Iran is strategically encircled by the US in Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and by US naval power in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. And Russia, they have seen NATO gobbling up Baltic countries, threatening to annex Georgia and Ukraine. They have seen NATO at war in Afghanistan, maybe forever, and US still present, one way or the another, across Central Asia. Iran and Russia, they share the same strategy as far as the Caspian Sea is concerned. They are in fact opposed to the new Caspian states—Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. Iran and Russia, they also face this threat of hardcore Sunni Islam. They have a sort of tacit agreement. For instance, Tehran has never done anything to help the Chechens. And then there’s the Armenian issue—a de facto Moscow-Tehran-Yerevan axis profoundly irks the Americans. Finally, in this past decade, Iran has become the third largest importer of Russian weapons after China and India, and this includes the antimissile system, the Tor-M1, which defends Iran’s nuclear installations. So thanks to Putin, Iran-Russian alliance is carefully deployed on three fronts: nuclear, energy, weapons. Now we get to the problems. First of all, Moscow by all means does not want a weaponized Iranian nuclear program. This spells out regional destabilization. Then, Central Asia is considered by Moscow as its backyard, so for Iran to be ascendant in Central Asia is very, very problematic. And as far as the Caspian goes, Iran needs Russia for a solution. What about the Caspian? Is it a sea? Is it a lake? And how much of it belongs to each border country? They still don’t know. On the other hand, Iran’s hardline regime will react wildly if it ever had Russia fully against it in the UN Security Council. That would spell rupturing economic relations very, very bad for both sides, but also the possibility of Tehran supporting radical Islam everywhere, from the Southern Caucasus to Central Asia. So under these complex circumstances, it’s not so far-fetched to imagine a sort of polite cold war going on between Tehran and Moscow. From Russia’s point of view, it all comes back to the axis, which will be, in fact, Moscow, Tehran, Yerevan, and New Delhi, a counterpower to the US-supported axis—Ankara, Tbilisi, Tel Aviv, Baku. Well, there is ample debate about it even inside the Russian elite. The old guard, like former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, they think that Russia’s back as a great power by cultivating its former Arab clients, as well as Iran. But the so-called Westernizers, they are convinced that Iran is not an asset, it’s in fact a liability. They may have a point. The key of this Moscow-Tehran axis is opportunism: opposition to US hegemonic designs in Eurasia as a whole. So what about Obama? Is his unclenched-fist policy wily enough to try to turn this all upside down? Or will he be forced by the the Israel lobby and the industrial-military complex to finally strike a regime now universally despised all over the West? Bottom line: Russia and Iran want a multipolar world. The new military dictatorship of the mullah-tariat in Tehran knows it cannot afford to be isolated. Its road to the limelight may have to go through Moscow. And that explains Iran making all sorts of diplomatic efforts to join the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization]—diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis China and Russia. As much as progressives in the West may support Iranian pragmatic conservatives, okay, but they are very far from being reformists. The crucial fact remains: Iran is a key peon for Russia to manage its relationship with the US and Europe. The overtones, they may be very nasty, as we have seen in the past few months, but all evidence points to stability at this vital artery at the heart of the new Great Game.
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