14 March 2007

Russia cracks down

Iran with a nuclear bomb or the ability to acquire one is not acceptable to Russia. We will not play anti-American games with it.

That's the latest word from the Kremlin, apparently -- and as Iran's main supplier of modern technology, Russia has far more leverage (short of military action) over the Iranian regime than anyone else does. As the article notes, "a spokesman for the Russian Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom) announced that the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the core of Iran's nuclear power program, would not be put into operation on schedule."

I see two possible interpretations of this position:

(1) Until recently the Russian regime honestly believed that the Iranian nuclear program was aimed only at peaceful energy production and not weapons-building, but it has just recently come to realize that it was mistaken, and is thus backing off from its earlier support. This might seem to imply that the Russian regime has been implausibly naive up to now, but it can't be ruled out; for one thing, the tendency of information-gathering services to tell the leadership what it wants to hear, and for the leadership to be selective in what it listens to, can be a serious one even in democracies, as the emerging revelations about pre-invasion US intelligence on Iraqi WMD programs illustrate. The fact that the Russian statement emphasizes alarm over Iran's ongoing defiance of the IAEA supports this interpretation. No matter how hard one tries to convince oneself that Iran is not working on nuclear weapons, Iran's own behavior seems calculated to make the task of sustaining such belief impossible.

(2) Russia always knew that Iran was trying to build nuclear bombs, and was willing to go along for its own reasons (perhaps seeing a chance to make money and gain influence in the Islamic world, knowing that the actual threat would probably be removed by American military action before it materialized), but is now reconsidering its position. On the whole this seems more likely. Russia has repeatedly been targeted by Islamist terrorism, and there must be strong elements within the regime who do not want to take even the slightest risk of nuclear bombs falling into the hands of the kind of people who did this. Concern about growing international isolation may also play a role; over the last few years the regime's truculent and bullying stance has led to a situation where even most of the other ex-Soviet Republics -- even Ukraine, Russia's closest relative culturally -- have aligned themselves with the US against it. Perhaps the regime has noticed that it is in a hole, and decided to stop digging.

For that matter, while Putin is certainly a thug, he is not even close to being another Stalin or Hitler. I doubt that anyone in the regime really wants to see a second Holocaust -- especially one with Russia's technological fingerprints all over it.

(Even the expected cash profits from Russia's help to Iran are not materializing -- the mullahs are behind on their payments. Perhaps some bank in Moscow will soon be trying to figure out how to repossess a nuclear reactor? Especially amusing is the Russians' stern verdict of "unacceptable" upon Iran's decision to pay them in EU Monopoly money rather than real dollars.)

Whatever the reason, it's a development the US should welcome. I still don't think the Iranian nuclear threat can be eliminated without an airstrike -- but far better for all concerned if it can be.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russia doesn't usually seem to rush into making statements or taking stands like this. I normally admire that- greatly. Though a bit slow in the making, this is wonderful to hear. Hopefully Iran is taking the statement to heart. Better chance of that than of Iran giving in to the US. I wouldn't like to see an American military strike against Iran, and after the way Bush (jr.) handled Iraq, I'm not trusting of anything this administration claims.

14 March, 2007 20:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'm frankly surprised that there has not been more of a public response from the US -- American-Russian cooperation is probably the only option that offers any hope at all of solving the Iran problem without massive violence. I hope there are feelers being put out privately, but given the administration's incompetence, they are probably capable of blowing any opportunity they are offered.

15 March, 2007 06:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NY Times has an article about it now. Pretty much the same stuff, but it puts more emphasis on the "unpaid bills." Too bad it's so much about the money, but it would be naive to think or to expect otherwise.

20 March, 2007 10:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

My impression is that the Russians are using the late-payment issue as something of a pretext and that the actual reason for their recalcitrance is different (that is, political). The Iranians deny that they are behind on their payments at all, at least according to one article I've seen. Still, time will tell. Thanks for the NYT article link.

20 March, 2007 18:48  

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