Burning Issues No. 18: Is Russia an ally of Iran?

Russia's refusal to impose even mild UN sanctions against Iran resulted in a substantially watered-down resolution.

putin 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
putin 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. A link to the writer's most recent column appears after each post. Burning Issues 1-17: Last three: PA crisis and Israel, anti-Iran rhetoric, Gaza cease-fire.
Question #18
Russia's refusal to impose even mild UN sanctions against Iran resulted in a substantially watered-down resolution that is unlikely to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The resolution exempts a nuclear reactor project supported by Russia, even though it could eventually supply plutonium for nuclear weapons. Complicating matters further, Russian-supplied air defenses surround Iranian nuclear facilities. At the same time, Moscow has claimed on several occasions that it objects to an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Which side is Russia on? What's Putin trying to achieve? Contributions by Calev Ben-David, Michael Freund, Jonathan Tobin and Saul Singer. Michael Freund: Vladimir Putin is playing a double game, and a transparent one at that. With words, he is sending soothing signals to the West, suggesting that Russia is opposed to Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. But his deeds demonstrate otherwise. Russia is clearly on Russia's side, and no one else's. They see an opportunity to stick it to the Americans by assisting their long-time foe Iran, while also making a fast ruble or two by selling the ayatollahs the technology and military hardware that they desire. In addition, the Russians almost certainly reached some type of understanding with Teheran regarding Iranian non-interference among Russia's restive Muslim population, which has long been a source of concern to the Kremlin. Hence, in one fell swoop, Mr. Putin has been able to strengthen his position at home, while also bringing in some much-needed hard currency to his nation's coffers. This act of treachery, however, can not be allowed to stand, and it is time for the West to speak out and expose Mr. Putin for what he is: a deceitful authoritarian ruler whose dubious methods have not only circumscribed basic freedoms at home, but have compromised international security as well. Attempts to moderate Russia by granting it trade benefits and inviting it to participate in various international organizations have clearly proven to be a failure, as Putin's stance on Iran clearly indicates. So instead of continuing to toss the Russian bear some more carrots, it might very well be time to take a tougher approach. Right On!: In praise of Christian Zionists Jonathan Tobin: Russia is on Russia's side. Jews and Israelis tend to think the world revolves around on the concerns of Israel. But Moscow sees the world from its own perspective. Its goal is to advance its own power and influence. Iran may be a dangerous client/ally for a country that has its own Islamic threat to deal with. But if preventing Teheran from being defeated thwarts American interests, then it serves the interests of Russia and its new would-be Tsar to back it up. Moscow seeks to re-assert itself as a world power in the Middle East. That doesn't mean it is or will be necessarily be as implacably hostile to Israel as the Soviet Union was. But there is little doubt that a region in which Russian influence becomes more pronounced will be more perilous for the Jewish State. Small states must always tremble when large powers play for high stakes in the "great game" - as Kipling described it a century ago - of geo-strategic influence. What is most needed here is American resolve to face down both Putin and his Iranian "friends." Their fundamental weakness will lead them to fold if the United States has the political will to persist and insist upon Iran's renunciation of nuclear ambitions. But whether or not the United States has such a will, in the wake of the floundering war in Iraq and political defeats for President Bush, is the question that has yet to be answered. View from America: The real denial Calev Ben-David: Although Russia has genuine security concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran sitting just to its, it does appear as if Putin is still playing something of the 'spoiler' role when it comes to Western security interests, just as the Kremlin did back in the bad old days of the former USSR. This misguided approach is based more on short-term domestic political and economic concerns on Putin's part than any serious consideration of collective global security needs. Diplomatic public and private pressure needs to be kept up on Moscow to convince it of the need for tougher sanctions on Iran, and both Israel and leading Jewish organizations can make a valuable contribution to this effort. Snap Judgment: Nonie Darwish isn't afraid Saul Singer: The US and Europe allowed Russia to strike out broad swaths of the proposed resolution, taking a weak resolution and making it into a mockery of international action. Ultimately, if the West stays within the limits of a Russian veto, Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. So far, the US has refrained from accusing Russia of striving to produce such an outcome, so Russia is paying no price for its behavior. In fact, Moscow has been rewarded - not only by moving toward WTO membership, but also by showing the power of its veto in shaping world events. The alternative is for Russia to be told that if it exercises its veto irresponsibly, the US and Europe will act outside of the Security Council, thereby rendering that body and Russia's veto less, not more, relevant. By acting as Iran's agent in the Security Council, Russia is endangering itself, the United States, Israel, and international peace and security. The purpose of multilateralism, as embodied by the UN Charter, should be to act together to defend against common threats to international peace and security, not to commit joint suicide. Europe will not, by itself, stand up for these principles. The United States, then, must start leading the way, or watch as the future of the world is defined by rogue states, terrorist organizations and their effective allies in Moscow and Beijing. Interesting Times: Baby steps