Mercedes Herrero explains the motivations behind Russia‘s moderate stance towards Iran in its bid to harness nuclear energy. Despite US and EU criticism, Russia has acted with great reserve in condemning Iran, for various reasons. Economically, Iran‘s move towards nuclear weapons could be quite lucrative for Russia, and politically, Russia is using the crisis to gain international power as a world player. Yet, if the situation were to worsen, and Mahmud Ahmadineyad were to become even more radical, Moscow would be one of the principal nations in danger of the Iranian threat, and may be one of the firsts to suffer if Teheran obtained nuclear missiles.
THE IRANIAN GAMBLE TO DEVELOP NUCLEAR WEAPONS is one of the most complex and critical issues that the international community is confronting today. While the United States and the European Union have done nothing but condemn Iran’s decision to go nuclear (although the EU discourages military intervention), Russia has taken a much more moderate position.
It has been Russia’s role in this crisis to relieve tensions about Iran’s intent. Russia has given Iran a vote of confidence, declaring publicly that it trusts that the country will only use the technology to enrich uranium for pacific ends.
ATTEMPT AT MEDIATION
At the beginning of 2006, after having issued a moratorium on Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear power, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) insisted that Iran cease all of its nuclear activities, and called upon the Security Counsel of the UN to take action. Teheran responded by abandoning the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus impeding access of IAEA specialists to Iran’s nuclear installations and documents without prior warning.
Russia has attempted to mediate in the conflict, offering Iran the possibility to enrich uranium in Russian territory, and then transport it back to Iranian facilities. But Teheran refused the offer straight away. Ahmadineyad insisted that his nuclear plans were in accordance with the norms of the IAEA and with the NPT.
THE DANGER OF RADICALISM
As the situation worsens, Russia continues to insist that the world not humiliate the Iranian regime nor provoke its government. Any rash action on the part of the West may incite a disastrous response from Iran thus destabilizing even more the fragile situation in the Middle East.
But no matter how the west responds, Ahmadineyad’s declarations have not helped to calm the situation much. His threats to wipe Israel from the map have given the United States plenty of reasons to consider a military intervention in certain strategic zones of Iranian territory.
So why is it that Moscow has decided to mediate this crisis?
The first and most evident motivation behind Russia’s actions is purely economic. Russia participated in the inauguration of the first Iranian nuclear facility and has promised its help in the construction of more over the next few years. Moscow also plans on benefiting by supplying Iran with enriched uranium. And its future projects of cooperation with Iran over the extraction and transportation of Iranian gas and oil, and in military matters makes Russia quite hesitant to condemn the country’s nuclear bid.
Russia also has political motivations for choosing a more moderate stance. Russia has been using the crisis as a way to regain some of its influence in the international community, and become a more powerful world player. But were the situation to change, and were Iran to become more radical, Moscow would not be able to mobilize enough resources in order to back the country against the eventual military intervention of the United States. Russia must be careful how far it takes its support of Teheran.
Russia is taking a serious risk in trusting that Iran will use its nuclear energy for only pacific ends. Although Iran may not be able to develop weapons yet, over the next ten years, once Iran’s nuclear program has passed through the initial phase, which is the most slow and costly, the possibility of an Iranian nuclear arsenal may become a reality.
And if Iran does obtain nuclear weapons, Russia will find itself in great danger. No economic or political benefit can make up for the risk of nuclear war with an unpredictable neighbor that you armed yourself.