Russia’s new president faces US on Iran

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The outgoing president will now act as Prime Minister, a position from which he will oversee both domestic and foreign policy. Pressing issues for the new leadership include expanding relations with Iran, and acting as a counterweight to American involvement in the region. Russia's resource-driven economy has flourished as soaring oil prices bring new found wealth and influence to this emerging powerhouse. The Real News Network analyst Eric Margolis examines the implications of a new Russian leadership.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Last week, Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, with Putin’s shadow not very far behind, was sworn in as the new president of Russia. To help us analyze the new Russia under President Medvedev, I’m joined by Eric Margolis, a seasoned foreign correspondent who’s been following Russian foreign affairs for many years. Eric, what will this Russia under Medvedev be?

ERIC MARGOLIS, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Well, probably plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, but we’re not really sure yet, because two personalities are involved who remain mysteries. What we’ve had is a change of power—new president, young Dmitry Medvedev, who’s been a long-time friend and protégé of Vladimir Putin. And they’ve known each other way back. He was head of Gazprom for awhile. He’s the man with the billions of rubles, the war chest, and the two have worked closely. But he’s not a KGB man, which is noteworthy. What’s happening is that Putin is following the Constitution, which is a first Soviet-Russian history, and he has resigned at the end of his term. And he’s created a party, United Russia. The united party has elected him party chairman, and he’s also become the prime minister. But the real power as of this moment is held by the president, Medvedev.

JAY: Now, one of the questions Medvedev is going to have to deal with immediately is Iran. Russia has big investments in Iran. They’re helping the Iranian nuclear energy program. They were just shipping nuclear energy equipment of some kind to Iran just recently. If there is a US attack of some kind on Iran or even just the continued efforts to diplomatically isolate Iran, Russia more and more is in a place of confrontation with US policy. What are we likely to see there?

MARGOLIS: Well, the Russians have made very clear they’re bitterly opposed to any US military attack on Iran. A warning was issued by the Kremlin telling the US not to use any military bases for such an attack that were in the former Soviet Union—that means Central Asia, Georgia.

JAY: This is where George Bush had his famous quote about the potential of World War III. It was really a shot across the bow of Putin.

MARGOLIS: That’s right. The threats are going back and forth. Russia is now getting up off its knees, it’s standing up again, it’s reasserting its traditional interests, and it’s saying to the US, "Wait a minute, you can’t go charging into Iran"–Very important trading partner for Russia, as well as a country of enormous strategic interest.

JAY: If there is a President McCain, what are we likely to see with a Medvedev and a McCain relationship?

MARGOLIS: Not good, because McCain has already gone out of his way to say, to accuse Russia of being [inaudible] and being aggressive and that he’s going to face down the Russians. He wants Russia to go back to being Mr. Nice Guy of the Boris Yeltsin days, when the US literally was the overseer of the new Russia. This ain’t going to happen anymore, so with McCain there’s definitely conflict in the offing.

JAY: US policy in Iraq and generally on the issue of oil has benefited Russia to a great extent. Oil at $120 a barrel has to be good for Medvedev.

MARGOLIS: Oh, and how. Putin’s comeback and his strength in rebuilding Russia is thanks in part to the US invasion of Iraq. So it’s in part the Russians’ interest to keep the pot stirring and to keep Iraqi oil off the market, which is happening. But in the longer-term, Russia’s got to react strongly to a growing and permanent US presence in Iraq and the heartland of the Mideast.

JAY: I mean, it’s part of the problem with the politics of oil. It’s in a lot of parties’ interest to keep the pot boiling at a very high temperature. It’s just sometimes that pots at high temperature boil over in spite of your best efforts.

MARGOLIS: That’s right. It’s a very dangerous situation. And as US policy under Bush and perhaps under McCain becomes increasingly militarized, and the US is stirring the pot in Georgia and in Azerbaijan, and in these very sensitive flash points for Russia, the chance of a military confrontation is increasing rapidly.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.