#31 - JRL 2009-175 - JRL Home
Moscow News
September 21, 2009
Playing ‘Risk’ for real
By Tim Wall

In the real-life version of "Risk", the global military strategy game, Russia appears to be winning, if President Barack Obama's move to drop US missile plans is anything to go by.

Amid the reset envisaged by Obama, the missile shield in Eastern Europe was clearly a bargaining chip to secure Russia's help on Iran. Yet Moscow has not reciprocated, beyond saying that it now does not need to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad.

Of the two things the US would like to see from Moscow, one - backing tougher sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme - is not on the cards given Russia's strong military and geopolitical ties with Iran.

The other - agreeing not to deliver S-300 defensive missile sytems to Tehran - is where the manoeuvres and brinkmanship get murky.

In the "Arctic Sea" affair, Western media cited Russian and Israeli sources as saying that Mossad agents uncovered an attempt to smuggle S-300s aboard and ship them to Iran.

Russian officials are thought to have promised the US and Israelis to cancel the contract. According to that version, Russian authorities were given the chance to create the "pirate-hijack" cover story in return for ensuring the missiles did not reach Iran.

If they had arrived, Israel may have carried out a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, opening up the possibility of a major new Middle East conflict.

Interestingly, Russian officials have not directly contradicted this scenario, simply saying that supplying defensive weapons is not a breach of international law.

This suggests an intriguing possibility - that the missile stories surrounding the "Arctic Sea" actually play into Russia's hands. After all, Moscow can hardly now be expected to send S-300s to Tehran (clandestinely or otherwise).

In other words, it's a win-win scenario for the Kremlin: Russia is seen to be keeping faith with its ally, while not actually delivering the missiles.

Such a policy has similarities with Russia's on-off-on-again nuclear power cooperation with Iran in recent years, which kept tensions simmering without starting a second regional war.

Those tensions kept oil prices high and boosted Russian state coffers - which would suit Russia again now.

The only problem with employing such tactics in real-life "Risk", of course, is if it all spins out of control. Russia could lose far more if war with Iran broke out than simply pieces on a board.

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