Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Is Russia's relationship with Iran changing? Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Jordan on December 1, where he issued a statement: "We are not against sanctions directed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear materials and sensitive technologies."
According to many Russian analysts, Russia has changed its attitude towards Iran and now will support sanctions along with the U.S. Lavrov also said that "referring the Iranian portfolio to the UN Security Council was done so that Iran would cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ... Iran has great potential to contribute to conflict resolution in the Middle East." This diplomatic statement means that Moscow will not cooperate with Iran at the level predicted by many Western journalists.
The feeling of change in the relationships between Moscow and Teheran has been in the air for awhile. On December 15, George Bush made a quick stop in Moscow, where he met in private with President Putin at Vnukovo airport. Few doubt that the topic of their conversation was Iran. Only three days before this short conversation, Putin and Secretary of the Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with a senior Iranian official, Ali Larijani, but Larijani left Moscow disappointed, because Russia refused to rule out sanctions against his country. Some analysts speculate that Russia has changed its position on Iran as part of a deal with the U.S. to join the WTO.
Russia Blog has previously expressed our own opinion on why Russia has been doing business with Iran. In our opinion, it has never been a goal of Russian foreign policy to support Iran in order to oppose the U.S. The main reason is that certain Russian officials probably receive enormous kickbacks from government contracts and arms sales. When an American asks, "Why does Russia sell $1 billion worth of weapons to Iran? It's not that much in the big scheme of things." My response is: because $400,000,000 in kickbacks to a small group of private individuals is a lot. Sadly, this kind of corruption is still not fully under control.
Many Americans would ask why Putin has allowed such greed to get in a way of a prudent foreign policy and healthy relations with America. One theory to explain this is that Russia simply wanted to pressure the U.S. for underestimating Russia as a major oil and gas producer and economic partner. America still has sanctions against Russia (dating to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment passed in 1974) which restrict trade in natural resources.
Many in Washington D.C. think tanks advocate free trade as a powerful instrument for spreading democratic values in China, but continue to say nothing about restrictions on trade with Russia. Thus, Russians perceive a double standard between how Russian companies are treated in Washington versus Chinese firms which are also doing business with Iran. Bloomberg reported on November 25 that China and Iran moved a step closer to signing an energy deal worth as much as $100 billion. The Islamic Republic invited China Petrochemical Corporation's managing director to Tehran to sign an accord first reached in 2004. The contract for Sinopec Group to develop Iran's Yadavaran oil field and secure oil and gas supplies over a 25-year period is complete and ready to be signed, according to the Iranian oil ministry press agency. China has also sold Iran anti-shipping missiles, and an Iranian copy of a Chinese C-801 missile was used by Hezbollah to damage an Israeli warship during last summer's Israeli-Hezbollah war.
There is another theory, which has never received much attention in the West, that Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear reactor in exchange for the Iranians withdrawing support from the terrorists in Chechnya. For many years, many Chechen terrorist leaders were not actually Chechen; they were either Saudis or Iranians. Did Moscow receive a peaceful Chechnya in exchange for relatively small favors to Iran?
Robert Amsterdam, the former attorney for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, suggests another theory. Amsterdam claims that Russia wants to create a natural gas cartel similar to OPEC to fix world gas prices, in cooperation with major gas producers like Iran, Qatar and Algeria. This way, even if Europeans want to buy less natural gas from Russia, they will still depend on Russian partners in the cartel for gas, and pay much more than they do now. Amsterdam also speculates that Russia is supporting Iran cynically, in the hopes that Western sanctions against Iran will prevent the Iranians from inking a deal with Turkey to open a major new gas pipeline route to Europe. Clearly there is a slight contradiction between these two ideas, but the former lawyer for Khodorkovsky strongly promotes them on his blog.
No matter what the reasons for previous Russian cooperation with Iran, it seems that the story may be coming to an end and that the Russian-Iranian friendship is over, at least in the way it was perceived by many Americans. Common Russians do not see any long-term benefit to Russia from Iran obtaining nuclear technologies, and America's opinion on this subject has been as clear as possible.