Russia’s Reaction to Amano’s Recent Report

Monday, November 14, 2011

Russia Facing “Atomic Iran – Americanized Iran” Binary

Alireza Noori
Expert on Russia and Central Asia Affairs

Russia’s approach to Iran's nuclear case has been vacillating in the past years. Review of those vacillations will clearly prove the influence of international variables, especially policies adopted by the now weakened hegemonic power of the global system (the United States) and Moscow’s relations with Washington on those vacillations. The ups and downs of Iran-Moscow relations from Yeltsin to Putin and Medvedev; their tangible effect on tactics employed by Moscow in dealing with Iran's nuclear case including positive votes for four anti-Iranian sanctions resolutions; the Russian President Medvedev’s allegations about Iran's effort to build nuclear bomb and the emphasis put by the country’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin officials on lack of diversion in Iran's nuclear plan followed by strong stress on the need to save the case through peaceful means attest to this fact. Despite those vacillations, Russia’s approach to Iran has been mostly determined by two important principles:

1. Definite opposition to militarization of Iran's nuclear program due to Moscow’s security and strategic considerations; and

2. Preference of an “atomic” Iran over an “Americanized” Iran as a result of Moscow’s geopolitical considerations.

The existing trends show that Moscow has consistently tried to protect its interests on both sides of Iran's nuclear case by taking ambiguous positions on the case. In this way, Moscow will reap benefits from both sides while realizing the aforesaid two principles. As said before, among various factors, the situation of Moscow’s relations with Washington should be considered an important variable determining the quality of Russia’s positions on Iran's nuclear case. This is because Moscow and Washington share security and strategic interests and consider themselves as the main policymakers on nonproliferation of the nuclear weapons. On the other hand, however, they also compete over various geopolitical areas where their interests conflict.

In view of the aforesaid considerations and as a function of relative closeness between Russia and the United States under President Medvedev, Moscow has been more aligned with West’s pressures against Iran's nuclear program and this has been manifest in the country’s support for anti-Iran sanctions. However, recent resentments and disagreements have erupted between the two countries in the past few months as a result of the United States’ aggressive approach to deploying a missile defense shield in Europe (which has included Turkey, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Poland). Also, due to Washington’s inattention to Russia’s considerations, especially in Libya and Syria, the temporary atmosphere of understanding has been dissipating and “optimism” about “resetting’ relations with Washington is rapidly vanishing into thin air.

As a result of such “letdowns,” Kremlin officials have reached the conclusion that by talking about “resetting” relations, the US President Barack Obama has been actually talking about a “one-way street” over which advantages are only transferred from Russia to the United States. As a result of this situation, Moscow and Washington have been recently at odds over various issues, including Iran and its nuclear case. Russia’s sharp criticism of the Iran report released by the Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano was just a function of the said atmosphere. The emphasis that Moscow has put on the report being “politically motivated” and aimed at “instigating international community” against Iran, that it is biased and pursuing non-constructive goals, and that its claims are not documents were salient points in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement in reaction to Amano’s new Iran report.

Kremlin officials have clearly stated that in its propaganda campaign against Iran's nuclear case, the West is trying to pass “images” as “realities.” The Russians have also emphasized that the United States is not willing to find a solution to the nuclear standoff because in that case, it would lose a major leverage to put increasing pressure on Iran. This has been, and still is, by no means desirable to Washington. This was why the Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, clearly stated that the main goal behind new pressures and threats of imposing new sanctions against Iran is totally “political” and aimed at “changing the political system” in Tehran.

As to why Russia’s tone has become so simmering, in addition to fears about losing relations with Iran, one may point out the US insistence on the deployment of its missile defense shield in Europe, which has been consistently criticized by Moscow. Since Washington has resorted to imaginary missile threats posed by Iran as an excuse for deployment of the missile shield, and now that the threat has been “aggrandized” in Amano’s new report, Moscow is concerned that this apparently legal document will pave the way for Washington to push ahead with its missile shield initiative more perseveringly than before. Therefore, Russia’s opposition to Amano’s report can be considered a last-ditch effort to refute excuses provided by Washington to justify deployment of the missile shield in Europe.

On the other hand, although Moscow has sometimes proved that it is not willing to act within the framework defined by the West, it should be noted that the country still lacks “software” and “hardware” abilities to define an independent “framework” for the game and is, therefore, forced to play the game within the framework defined by the West. As a result, Amano’s report and the West’s anti-Iran propaganda before and after the report was released can be considered as harbinger of the failure of Russia’s step by step initiative which Moscow planned to offer as a new framework. This concern was evident in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement where it noted that Moscow was greatly concerned that the report will thwart efforts by international community, including Russia’s initiative, to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear case.

Despite the above facts and in spite of Russia’s sharp criticism of Amano’s report, we should not attach “strategic” importance to temporary and naturally ephemeral vacillations in Russia’s “tactical” game over Iran's nuclear case. As said before, the most important variable determining Russia’s position on various issues is its relations with the United States. Most Russians believe that two important principles; that is, preventing militarization of Iran's nuclear program and preventing Tehran from leaning toward Washington can be realized more properly through closer interaction with the United States, not Iran. On the other hand, it would be basically illogical to expect Russia sacrifice its tactical relations with Iran in favor of strategic interactions with the United States. Iran's diplomatic establishment should bear this reality in mind and adopt an informed diplomacy in the face of Russia (without giving undue concessions to Moscow) in order to use that country’s capacity, especially in the Security Council (in whatever way possible) and reduce Western pressures against Iran.

More by Alireza Noori:

*Russia’s Reverse Initiative to Solve Iran’s Nuclear Issue:

*Ahmadinejad-Medvedev Meeting: Opportunity for Realism: