|Allying with Iran is Putin’s ace in the hole: Moscow Times||
TEHRAN – In an article published on the website of the Moscow Times, the writer says that forging a closer alliance with Iran could be an option for Russia to deal with Western sanctions against it over the Ukraine crisis.
Following are excerpts of the article written by Josh Cohen:
As Moscow considers new ways of responding to Western sanctions, both existing and potential, the Kremlin has a range of economic and political options at its fingertips.
In addition to its current ban on importing U.S. and EU foodstuffs, a ban on the import of foreign cars may also be in the works. President Vladimir Putin could also retaliate by prolonging Ukraine’s gas cutoff.
But perhaps the most damaging step Putin could take against Western interests would be to (take advantage of) the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) negotiations (with Iran over Tehran’s) nuclear program.
The West’s major leverage against Tehran stems from its sanctions, which have cut Iran off from the global financial system and (negatively affected Iran’s economy).
But Russia has never been fully on board with the move to isolate Iran, and Moscow has already warned the West that it could play the “Iran card.”
Speaking in March about Western sanctions after a P5+1 meeting in Geneva, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “We wouldn’t like to use these talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes … but if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.”
The Iranians are well aware that the Ukraine crisis could strengthen Iran’s negotiating position. Hossein Mousavian, a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators, recently wrote, “Logic follows that Russia will play Iran’s nuclear card (against the West). Great economic rewards may also result from Russia cultivating closer relations with Iran.”
Moscow has now taken concrete steps to play Mousavian’s “nuclear card,” signing a memorandum of understanding with Tehran to implement a $20 billion “oil-for-goods” accord.
Cliff Kupchan, a Russia specialist at the Eurasia Group, noted in Time magazine that the oil-for-goods accord “gives Iran momentum and confidence to adopt a harder position at the talks.”
The oil-for-goods deal is not the only way Russia could undermine Western interests in Iran. Russia and Iran have had ongoing discussions about the construction of additional nuclear reactors for Iran by Rosatom, the Russian state energy company. This pact strengthens Iran’s case against the West that it should be permitted to enrich more uranium on its own soil, as the construction of additional reactors would increase the amount of fuel Iran needs.
And while the oil-for-goods deal and the construction of additional reactors certainly have the potential to strengthen Iranian (critics) opposed to a deal with the West, Russia holds one card in reserve that trumps even these.
In 2007, Russia signed a contract with Iran to supply it with its sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.
Although Russia suspended the delivery of the S-300 systems to Iran in 2010 in response to U.S. pressure, Putin could retaliate against the West by allowing the sale to go through — a decision that could change the balance of power in the Middle East.
The S-300s thus represent Putin’s ultimate ace in the hole, should he wish to retaliate asymmetrically against Western sanctions. Would Putin actually risk such an outcome?
The Russian president has proven to be nothing if not unpredictable, and if the pressure from the West against Russia continues to mount, the West may find that Putin has his own trump card to play.
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