Inside Russia’s mind.

By Ahmed Asif

What seemed like a good friendship between two nations is now beginning to turn sour. Iran and Russia have long enjoyed a mutual relationship and good trade relations yet Iran’s nuclear program has witnessed the relationship somewhat deteriorate. The Russians along with China have been Iran’s only allies among the United Nations Security Council members over its disputed nuclear program and ambitions. However with recent sanctions being imposed on the country with the backing of its two close allies the question begs to be asked, with Iran’s crucial allies playing to different tune over its program is it now likely that the Iranians will indeed reluctantly sit at the negotiating table?

Iran is in need of friends over its nuclear ambitions, it has long protested that the aims of the Islamic Republic are peaceful and always have been. The West and Israel on the other hand argue vehemently that the hidden agenda behind the program is in fact to construct a nuclear weapon. In a region plagued with a bloody history of fighting, the daunting prospect of war is always on the table, Israel, a state not all too welcome by her neighbours, has urged the international community, mainly the United States, to halt Iran’s ambitions or it will do so itself. Israel is not one to shy away with taking action itself, in 2004 an alleged Syrian nuclear site was attacked by the Israeli’s who believed the Syrians were planning to attack. A pre-emptive attack on Iran however could land Israel in an unpredictable and disastrous situation.

Israel have strongly pressured America and Russia to halt Iran's nuclear program

Although there is no hard facts on the ground to hint that Iran is building a nuclear bomb it has still been slapped with a fourth round of crippling sanctions, and the possibility of a fifth, aimed at bringing the country to the negotiating table without any pre-conditions. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany, known more commonly as the P5+1, recently drafted and passed another round of sanctions on the Iranians in an attempt to hasten the conclusion of the country’s nuclear ambition, whether its diplomatic or military remains to be seen. Russia backed the sanctions to the surprise of many. Viewed as one of Iran’s very few allies in the Security Council the Russians change in tactics could sour relations between themselves and Iran.

President Medvedev went further with a strongly worded statement that highlighted that the Russian’s stance and opinion on Iran’s nuclear program was beginning to change and believe that Iran may very well be contemplating constructing a nuclear bomb. Medvedev stated “It is obvious that Iran is moving closer to possessing the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of nuclear weapons. Iran is not acting in the best way”. However the Iranians dismissed the support of sanctions by Russia and also China, Vice President Mehdi Mostafavi stated “Most countries stand by Iran’s side in the nuclear field. So if a few other countries, including the Americans, differ, then it is not important to us.”

Although the United States is playing for a diplomatic conclusion to the saga Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the highest ranking officer in America, was posed with the question about a possible plan for a military attack on Iran Mullen replied frankly “We do”. There was for the first time surprisingly no need for the media to read between the lines or search hidden messages behind the statement Mullen made it clear; should it reach a point where the “open hand” approach has been shunned and sanctions pushed aside by Iran then America has the capability, even with their armed forces being stretched in Afghanistan, to strike Iran effectively.

So why would Russia suddenly change its mind over the nuclear program? Intense pressure from the United States or do the Russians actually believe that a nuclear weapon is Iran’s main priority?

Russia has previously staunchly opposed sanctions on Iran claiming that it not only harms the ordinary Iranian but also pushes the Iranian government away from the negotiating table. The fourth round of sanctions were supported by the Russians because it did not cause “humanitarian damage” however the prospect of yet another draft of pressure on Iran was this time rejected by the government of Russia with the Foreign Ministry stating it “not only undermines our joint strength in the search for a political-diplomatic resolution of the situation around Iran’s nuclear program but demonstrates scorn for the carefully developed and agreed-upon position of the UN Security Council resolution”.

The Russian’s have been major arms exporters to Iran since the early 90’s, as well as arms the Russians have also been involved in the construction of nuclear plants in Iran. One of the most significant deals between the two states in recent times that has witnessed the relationship take a gradual downhill path was the deal that saw Russia agree to sell Iran long range anti-aircraft missiles which had an estimated value of £650m. Along with other weaponry and technology sold to the Iranians it provided them altogether with the required protection of their nuclear facilities should a military attack take place. However the delayed deal has finally been called off by the Russians saying that it violates the rules of the sanctions imposed.

As well as close relations with Iran and other Arab countries, Russia has also now begun to cosy up to Israel; a move that will further jeopardise the friendship with Ahmadinejad’s government. Military co-operation and the purchasing of Israel’s weaponry have been very lucrative for the Russians.

One of Iran's handful of allies in the UN.

While Russia does not want to see American or Western influence spread gradually through the world, which could be one of the main reasons for backing Iran. It also does not want to see a nuclear armed Iran should the program turn out to be for weapons and also lose billions in trading relations with Western nations, Israel and also some Arab nations. Russia it appears can be persuaded or pressured from either sides of the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear plan.