Is Russia happy it sabotaged a new US-Iran deal? - analysis

Having oversold Washington and angered the Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, Moscow realizes it has no more “in” with the West.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Yerevan, Armenia, November 23, 2022 (photo credit: SPUTNIK/VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL VIA REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit in Yerevan, Armenia, November 23, 2022
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Russian state media covered the apparent failure of Iran deal talks with a kind of cheeky glee. It’s not always easy to read what Moscow’s real agenda is, but it appears the Kremlin may be pleased with talk of an Iran deal that seems to be almost totally destroyed. Russia is also hosting an Iranian delegation this week.  

More than a decade ago when the Obama administration came into office there was a decision in Washington, backed by those critical of the old foreign policy establishment and those involved in “realist” circles, that advocated for the US working with Russia and Iran. This contingent believed the US should shift policy away from partnering with Israel, Saudi Arabia and others in the Middle East to work toward empowering Iran and Russia.

An “Iran deal” would help Iran pave the way for a nuclear bomb, even though it was ostensibly designed to put off that bomb for a decade or so. Advocates for the deal were also critics of Israel who believed US-Iran tensions were due to the “Israel lobby.” If Iran could be empowered, this would “stabilize” the Middle East because under “realist” theories a balance of power is always good. Thus, their goal was to empower the authoritarian enemies of the US to balance it and balance Israel by empowering Iran.  

All of their ideas mostly crashed on the rocks after the Trump administration tore up the Iran deal and Iran put on steroids its backing of proxy wars all over the Middle east. Then came Act II of this bizarre play. Having secured an Iran deal and then torn it up, the US was isolated diplomatically. But Russia had its own agenda. Instead of continuing to try to play the West and work to bring Iran in from the cold, Moscow planned an invasion of Ukraine, after having intervened in Syria and occupied parts of Ukraine in 2014-2015 fighting.  

Fast forward to the summer of 2022. Moscow began to use Iranian-made drones to target and terrorize Ukraine. For Iran this was a welcome opportunity to sell weapons abroad and potentially secure support from Moscow on a variety of things Iran wants.

 A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022. (credit:  Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS) A drone is launched during a military exercise in an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on August 25, 2022. (credit: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS)

Iran also wants to work with China and regional groupings like CICA and SCO. Now Iran is even participating in a Russia-backed CSTO parliamentary assembly this week, Russia’s media says.  

The real agenda

So what’s really going on here? Not long ago, Iran had friends in the US and the West. Now Iran is isolated and forced to deal with Russia and other regimes to the east. Russia’s state media outlet TASS said Sunday that “the US intends to focus on alleged Iran’s weapons deliveries to Russia and on ongoing protests in that country and not on resuming talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program." US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said in an interview with Bloomberg on Saturday, "Iran’s weapons exports to Russia and its crackdown on protests make it seem like any chance of a new deal is over. No western country wants to appease the Iranian regime today."  

Russian state media also heralds Iran's choice to enrich uranium beyond 60 percent. Iran appears to be focusing more on its nuclear program. But all might not be lost on the deal front. An article at The Washington Post asserts that we still need an Iran deal. The IAEA is also concerned. Iranian uranium enrichment is nearing weapons-grade  material. That’s a big deal and puts Israel and Israel’s incoming government in a tough spot potentially.  

So, how does Russia benefit? By putting Iran in a corner Russia is making it so Tehran must rely even more on Moscow’s advice. It appears that Moscow has been doing this since 2009 when the Obama administration shifted from backing air defenses for eastern Europe to focusing on Iran. In fact, Moscow’s ability to use Iran as a blocking tackle against the West may date from its attempts to get the Obama administration to shift focus to Iran and do a “reset.”

No more "in" with the West

Having oversold Washington and angered the Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, Moscow realizes it has no more “in” with the West. By cutting ties, Moscow wants to get the Iranians on its side as well.

Of course, that sets the stage for a problem. Does Moscow want Iran to have a nuclear weapon? What is Moscow’s advice in this regard? Does Russia hope Iran’s pursuit of a bomb may distract from the war in Ukraine?

As the winter sets in and the tempo of operations is reduced in Ukraine, perhaps the world’s eyes will shift back to Iran. Herein will lie Russia’s real role in sabotaging a deal back in the fall of 2021, then launching the war in 2022 and finally acquiring Iran’s drones. Time will tell what Moscow’s real policy is in this regard.