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#10 - JRL 7218
NG Dipkuryer
No. 10
June 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
By Yevgeny SATANOVSKY, president, Institute of Israeli and Mideastern Studies

The Iranian crisis now looms on the horizon. Meanwhile phase one of the Iraqi crisis has just ended, with Saddam Hussein and his regime vanishing into thin air. The US-British coalition won the war easily enough, conducting an all-out military operation in Iraq and losing relatively few soldiers there. The UN objected, Europe protested, China voiced its displeasure; and Russia narrowly missed spoiling its relations with the United States. The results of this crisis are here for everyone to see.

How Much is US Support?

What should Russia do in this new conflict? Should it support the United States, just like Vladimir Putin is apparently doing? Or should it support Iran in line with his opponents' insistent demands? Should Russia pretend to support America, merely suggesting on-site IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections? Or should it provide real-life support instead?

What should be extent of such support and its motivations, if the answer is "Yes"? The United States keeps talking about spirituality and morals out loud and absolutely sincerely, nonetheless attaching priority to mercenary considerations. This differs completely from the so-called Russian-US "dialogue between friends" of the 1990s. Maybe, Russia should find some third option? What kind of option should this be, and what results is it going to produce?

We've got to answer all these topical questions in no time at all. It should also be mentioned here that, unlike the recent Iraqi situation, we must comprehend the essence of any move, while taking action.

Neighbors are More Important than Allies

Iran, which is located in direct proximity to Russia, acts as its serious military-technical and nuclear power-industry partner. However, the US side isn't very happy about precisely these two cooperation avenues. Iran, which is not Russia's ally, won't become such. Contrary to expectations, Iran doesn't cause too many problems as Russia's neighbor either. Iran voices a constructive stand on regional geo-political issues (that are perceived as important by Russia) in line with its own interests.

Iran largely tends to copy the relevant Soviet experience of the first few post-revolution decades. The Teheran regime continues to evolve, with conservatives, reformists and technocrats struggling for power within the ruling elite's framework. The country continues to weather one crisis after another, sluggishly supporting the export of revolution on a limited scale, vying with neighbors and fighting them rather rarely. Moreover, Iran keeps fighting global imperialism, as it moves to develop nuclear weapons at a breath-taking pace.

Is the latter factor enough to provoke a US attack? Yes, of course. Does the destabilization of Iran meet Russian interests?

No. However, the emergence of yet another nuclear power near Russian borders doesn't meet such interests either. Should Russia wholeheartedly defend Iran in this situation, running the risk of yet another Iraq-type front or, at worst, standing next in line for "democratization?"

As far as political realities are concerned, we should at least try and predict possible developments, subsequently creating a model of our own behavior and national actions. Will the United States fight Iran the way it attacked Iraq? Experts are not sure whether this is going to happen. The people of Iran might be subjected to large-scale ideological brain-washing already in the near future; the United States will also move to pressure the Teheran regime, destabilizing it by every means at America's disposal; moreover, a large fifth column will also swing into action. Washington will also do its best to bribe the Iranian elite, establishing a financial blockade, imposing sanctions, conducting special operations and even launching surgical strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. Mind you, all this might happen pretty soon now. Meanwhile any all-out war, which seems impossible at this stage, is hindered by the fact that Iran is a far cry from Iraq. The US leadership knows all about such qualitative differences perfectly well.

Russia still has enough time to prepare for any possible surprises, for holding consultations with US and Iranian leaders, for setting forth its own political line and implementing it reasonably enough in line with the situation. Russia should say it's worried, just like China did. Moscow has already stated out loud that it's concerned over Teheran's nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile the Kremlin should say in a low voice that it's worried about Washington's possible actions.

Objectively speaking, Russia must try and preserve its influence in Trans-Caucasia, all the more so as Georgia and Azerbaijan, which are headed by former secretaries of the Soviet Communist Party's central Committee, rather than Ayatollahs, might become America's prospective allies, also providing bases for Islamic terrorists. It would be quite reasonable not to moth-ball those specific Russian-Iranian projects, which are not directly linked with US claims as regards mass destruction weapons, until the United States provides adequate and symmetrical compensation.

Acting as an "Honest Broker"

Russia's defense factories and machine-building enterprises hope to get their money back (possibly, in the form of buy-back contracts), if they suspend cooperation with Iran. This will solve the problem of unauthorized technology and unconventional- feedstock transfers to Iran. Still one should keep in mind that a number of CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and China, rather than Russia, present a problem for the United States in this respect. Despite greater risks, it would be expedient to considerably expand the Russian corporate presence inside those particular Iranian sectors, which are not covered by possible US sanctions. Their list includes oil and gas production, the petro-chemical industry and the machine-building sector, in the first place. The relevant Iraqi experience shows that private companies, especially mixed Russian-European companies, will have much better prospects than state-run entities.

And, finally, it would be quite wise to mediate the crisis in US-Iranian relations. Despite the fact that Europe will inevitably compete with Moscow during the peace process, Russia would profit greatly from this position. Direct contacts between the Presidents of Russia and the United States, as well as current US - Old Europe tensions (that were manifested at the Evian summit), are Russia's main resource in this situation. This resource can help it to surge ahead of rivals along the Iranian axis and to play the part of an "honest broker." In conclusion, let's dwell on the theory to the effect that America's tough-worded statements with regard to Iran are nothing but a smoke-screen for concealing the US Administration's preparations for active operations on the Arabian Peninsula.

Quite possibly, the United States might even hit Saudi Arabia. It seems that Russia should facilitate the implementation of US plans to the greatest possible extent in line with its tactical and long-term interests, if this scenario does manifest itself. Russia perceives the destruction of global Islamic terrorism's main financial-organizational base as something vitally important.

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