I recently addressed four questions about the upcoming visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran sent to me by Greek journalist Ειρήνη Μητροπούλου (Irini Mitropoulou) from the newspaper Το Βήμα (To Vima). My answer to her second and part of my answer to her third question appear in Greek in her article for the 4 August 2013 issue of her paper. Here are my responses to all of her questions in English:
IM: What is the major focus of Russia’s Iran strategy at this moment?
MNK: Russia and Iran have important common interests. Both support the Assad regime in Syria. Both are concerned about preventing the Taliban seizing power once again throughout Afghanistan after the American withdrawal and posing a threat to both their interests (as it did before 9/11). Both are concerned about the rise of radical Sunni Islamism, which is anti-Russian and anti-Shi’a as well as being anti-Western. And, of course, both have adversarial relations with the United States and many of its Western and Middle Eastern allies. Moscow has no interest in joining Western-sponsored efforts to sanction or isolate (much less attack) Iran over the nuclear issue. Weakening Iran would also weaken its willingness and ability to cooperate with Russia on these other issues that are more important to Moscow.
IM: Will Putin be able, or willing, to reverse the dead end in discussions about Iran’s nuclear program, or will he just pursue bilateral interests (energy, missile sales etc)?
MNK: While Moscow does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, this issue simply is not as important for Russia as it is for Western and Middle Eastern governments. In other words: Russia can live with a nuclear Iran. It expects that others will have no choice but to do so as well if and when Iran acquires such weaponry.
IM: And why does Russia stay loyal to Iran despite tensions?
MNK: For Russia, there is no point in pressuring Iran on the nuclear issue on the West’s behalf since 1) this could jeopardize the achievement of Russian bilateral ambitions in the trade realm; 2) Russia does not have as much leverage over Iran on the nuclear issue as some in the West (especially Washington) seem to believe; and 3) Putin in particular does not want to be seen as bowing to American pressure on any issue, including Iran.
IM: Is this a blow to the US strategy of sanctions and diplomacy?
MNK: Yes it is. But the Obama Administration’s hope that Russia would “help us” on the Iranian nuclear issue was unrealistic from the start. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how Moscow’s views its interests with regard both to Iran and to America.