ROAR: “Russia avoids taking sides in Iran issue”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Moscow may be changing its attitude towards Iran, but it is still relying on diplomacy, the Russian media notes.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s statements about the possibility of tougher sanctions against Iran “means a serious turn” in Russia’s policies on this issue, Kommersant daily wrote. “Over recent years Moscow has been the strongest opponent of any sanctions against Iran,” the paper added.

“When sanctions would make it to the voting at the UN Security Council, Moscow did everything to soften them,” the daily added. “Now, Moscow is ready to cooperate with Washington on the Iran issue,” the paper said.

Another daily, Vedomosti, noted that in the past Russia opposed sanctions because the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr helped Russian high-tech sectors and then-President Mohammad Khatami was pursuing a more moderate line.

Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the situation has changed. “Moscow did not support Iran to spite Washington,” Vedomosti wrote. “Rather, Iran used Russia, forcing it to defend Tehran’s interests in the UN in exchange for continuing to finance the construction of the nuclear plant,” the paper added.

“It is surprising that Russia has stopped supporting the unpredictable [Iranian] regime situated near its borders only after it started resetting relations with the US,” the paper added.

The media and observers note that Russia is changing, even if slightly, its position towards Iran after the US scrapped its missile defense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic. “Russia reconsidered its position on Iran just after the US president made a statement about the refusal of the [missile defense] project,” Kommersant daily said.

However, the Russian authorities say there is no link between Moscow’s position on Iran and America’s missile defense plans, RBC daily noted. Pavel Salin, analyst at the Center for Political Conjuncture, also believes that Medvedev’s statements about possible support for new sanctions were not a response to Washington’s decision in the missile defense sphere.

“Theoretically, Russia may support sanctions against Iran, but the principled position of Russia and China is that one should speak not in the language of sanctions, but in another language,” Salin told website.

Aleksey Makarkin, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, believes that Russia may support sanctions against Iran if it is convinced that Tehran “is going to develop a nuclear bomb.”

“Russia is not interested in the emergence of a new nuclear power, especially near its borders,” Makarkin told Interfax news agency. The Kremlin will try to solve the problem by peaceful means, but Russia is concerned about the possibility of Iran having nuclear weapons, Makarkin added.

He compared the behavior of two regimes –North Korea and Iran – saying that both of them are pursuing similar policies. They periodically create tension in relations with the international community, Makarkin said.

In North Korea these policies are connected with the possible transfer of power to Kim Jong-Il’s successor, Makarkin noted. As for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is pursuing confrontational policies against the West “to weaken the capabilities of [the country’s opposition], accusing it of treachery,” the analyst added.

The overhaul of Russia’s policies towards Iran “had begun long before Medvedev’s statements in New York,” Kommersant wrote. The paper quoted a high-ranking anonymous source in the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that the Kremlin invited the Iranian president to Moscow before the session of the UN General Assembly.

Russia wanted “to persuade Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make concessions to the international community and to work closely with the Group of Six countries,” the paper said. “However, the Iranian side evaded the response,” Kommersant wrote.

Russia’s position is becoming increasingly closer to that of the West. However, there is still a chance that Moscow may influence Iran. Russia will join sanctions if the talks between Iran and the Group of Six countries, due to begin on October 1, fail.

At the same time, the diplomatic measures have not been exhausted. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demonstrated this on September 28, calling for restraint after Iran had test-launched the longest-range missile in its arsenal. The Sajjil surface-to-surface missile is said to be capable of reaching Israel and parts of Europe.

Lavrov also urged Iran to fully answer questions regarding a second uranium enrichment facility in the country.

Iran is certain that no country is interested in unleashing a war now, observers of the situation say. Another factor that Tehran could use is the ineffectiveness of sanctions imposed by the international community. “Iran is feeling the split in the international community and is trying to play on differences, challenging the Western world all the time,” Salin said.

Iran is behaving in this way because it is certain that the sanctions against it will not be approved in the UN Security Council because of the positions of Russia and China, he added.

On the other hand, if Russia and China change their positions, Tehran will have to overhaul its policies, however now “there are no conditions for this,” Salin said. He added that Russia wants Iran to “go its way, but not challenge the international community.”

At the same time, some observers believe that Russia is not changing its policies towards Iran at all. “Russia in the past still agreed to impose sanctions against Iran so as not to spoil relations with the West,” Dmitry Pavlov, analyst at the Center of Middle East Studies in St. Petersburg, told RBC daily.

“Iran has already more than once shown disregard for Russia’s position, promising one thing to [then-President Vladimir] Putin, and then doing another,” Vladimir Sotnikov from the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations told the paper.

“However, Moscow has always insisted on cooperation between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, so there is no shift in Russia’s stance,” he added.

Vladimir Yevseyev, analyst at the Center of International Security of the Institute of Global Economy and International Relations, thinks “it is difficult to speak about any real results of Iranian nuclear program.” At the same time, “Russia’s potential agreement” to support a tougher UN resolution does not mean that “the new sanctions will be adopted,” Yevseyev told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Moscow is trying “to avoid taking sides,” Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, said. “Russia has already made concessions [to the West],” he told Rosbalt news agency.

If before Moscow insisted that sanctions should not be imposed on Iran “in principle”, now Russia is saying that it may participate in these sanctions, but it needs IAEA recommendations, Suslov added.

“There is 60-70% chance that Moscow will agree to support new sanctions, simultaneously trying to soften them somehow,” Suslov said. The reason behind this is that “Iran has its own value for Russia irrespective of Russian-US relations,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT