Analyst Says Moscow Will Not Follow West's Cue On Iran
Russia in the past has discouraged a push by the United States
and Europe to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its pursuit
of a complete nuclear fuel cycle the West fears could be used to make atomic
weapons. But Moscow has signaled a change in its stance toward Tehran. In recent
days, officials including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have indicated
they would not block a Security Council referral, although they would likely
still oppose sanctions. Vladimir Mukhin, a military analyst with the Russian
newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and a professor at the country's Academy of
Military Sciences, spoke on 11 January to Ivanov about Iran. Mukhin told RFE/RL
Tajik Service correspondent Iskander Aliev about the
Mukhin: I'm curious whether a military scenario would unfold after Iran
continues its nuclear tests. [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Ivanov said he
was concerned. Of course, he was echoing a statement by the Foreign Ministry.
However, the day before, he said he was hoping that tensions between Iran and
the West would not develop into armed conflict.
Why such a
statement? Probably because the Russian chiefs of staff are not excluding the
possibility of a military solution. That's exactly what we're thinking about
right now. Why? Because it is clear that Iran is challenging the West,
particularly the United States, but also, to some extent, Russia. Tehran
rejected Russia's proposal to enrich Iranian uranium on our soil, saying they
wanted to do it on their own. We can speculate, with some certainty, on Iran's
desire to build an A-bomb and, if we have sufficient basis for suspicion, then
military action against Tehran will be highly likely.
Americans have been the first to prepare for this. In the press, we have already
seen some analyses of how things could play out. Several times last year, [U.S.
President George W. Bush] hinted that the United States might have to confront
Iran in order to depose the harsh regime and create an Iraq-style government. To
what extent is this likely? I think the possibility certainly exists, and the
longer Iran continues these nuclear tests, the higher the probability of it
happening. Most likely, Russia and China will block the handing over of the
so-called nuclear dossier [to the UN Security Council].
It is not
profitable for Russia to impose sanctions on Iran, since we just recently signed
an agreement to sell them nearly $1 billion worth of medium-range anti-aircraft
weapons. These modern weapons are capable of hitting targets of up to 25
kilometers away and will probably be used to defend various testing sites in
Iran. Therefore, if some attempt is made to strike at the country and the
deliveries from Russia are made quickly enough, we can expect a strong response.
In other words, Iran will be able to defend itself. However, if ballistic
missiles are used, then nuclear sites can be targeted effectively. We must not
forget that Russia has its experts working on some of these sites, and is not
interested in a military scenario, if only to protect them.
has similar interests, because it buys oil from Iran. The Americans are a viable
threat, since they have virtually surrounded Iran. First of all, they have
planes stationed at air bases in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, so that is one place
they can strike from. At the same time, there is Iraq. There is also the
possibility that in the case of an attack, the United States will use
Azerbaijan. There has recently been such a tendency and communications outposts
are already being developed on the border with Iran. These are troubling
symptoms of a potential military conflict. This is very alarming. I am 100
percent sure that Russia will block any sanctions because it profits from trade
with Iran and loses out from sanctions against the country. At the same time,
Russia understands that the Iranian regime is taking certain false steps and
this is where diplomacy must be put to work. Right now, it is difficult to say
what success this diplomacy will have, because Iran is currently behaving with
confidence and even defiance. These are my prognoses.
RFE/RL: Yesterday, members of Russia's Security
Council...reported that although Russia's proposal concerning Iran's possible
enriching of uranium on Russian soil was rejected, the next stage of talks will
take place in Moscow in February and this topic will come up again. Do you think
we can anticipate a change in the stance of either side, Iran or Russia?
Mukhin: You mean whether Iran will agree to
enrich its uranium in Russia?
Mukhin: I wouldn't exclude this possibility.
Why? Because Russia has ways in which it can pressure Iran. First, there is the
weapons supply. There haven't been any supplies to Iran in a long time and the
army is demanding new equipment. This is one argument. The other is that Iran
and Russia have common interests around the Caspian Sea and if Iran wants to
pursue close relations with Russia, this will be an area where influence can be
gained by either side. Perhaps, Russia will offer more advanced weapons to Iran,
including systems like the S-300, which we supplied to Syria. Iran, of course,
is a different kind of country. It is rich, and if Russia wants to, it has ways
of persuading Tehran.
RFE/RL: What is the range
of the S-300?
Mukhin: Up to 300 kilometers. The
equipment I was talking about earlier is for protecting sites on the ground. The
S-300, on the other hand, can intercept a ballistic missile. This is one of
Russia's strongest cards, since Iran's priority right now is the protection of
its territory. The country is basically surrounded by NATO bases and American
bases, so sooner or later the conflict could develop into a military one.
RFE/RL: Are there any other details that you, as
a military specialist, would like to add that I haven't asked you about yet?
Mukhin: I think that given the current
situation, Russia will not take any serious steps or follow the West's cue. As I
already mentioned, Russia will probably defend its own interests while helping
Iran solve this problem. The reasoning is military and geopolitical. Moscow
really doesn't like American activity in the South Caucasus.... Moscow will
never go for a souring of relations with Iran, no matter what Iran does. Right
now, Iran can act as an ally, because there is the current question of Iran
joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It has already been accepted as
an observer [just like India] and in this particular case Russia will profit
from creating some sort of alliance with Iran to resist the expansion of NATO
and the United States in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. These are
important goals for Moscow, and our understanding [of them] allows us to predict
what [Moscow] will be doing in the future.
RFE/RL: One last question. Next Monday [16 January], the
presidents of Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan plan to meet on the border
between Iran and Afghanistan [eds. meeting has since been cancelled]. It has
something to do with a highway that will connect the three countries. Iran has
lately been investing more in the Tajik economy. Do you think that Russia will
support this activity in the future? After all, it wants to have influence in
Mukhin: I will say this. In
Tajikistan, Iran is no competition for Russia. I am 100 percent sure of this and
Moscow's desire to build new factories to produce aluminum is key here. One
single factory would double Tajikistan's GDP. You know well that Tajikistan's
GDP is only $3 billion. Russia's military budget is $20 billion. Tajikistan is a
poor country with good resources, so Russia profits from the investment, even if
it comes from Iran. This isn't bad at all. It revives the country and Russia
benefits from a stronger Tajikistan, so in this case Iran's actions are only
welcome. You may be aware that currently, with India's help, Tajikistan is
modernizing the airfield in Aigi and a new Russian air base will be stationed
there. Again, there is no competition here, but simply geopolitical pragmatism.
This is why I think Russia's, Iran's, and India's goals in Tajikistan, as well
as in Central Asia in general, should only be welcomed.
(Translation by Dmitry Levit)
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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