Friday, December 16

Peter Lavelle and Pundita discuss reported Russian sale of SAMs, weapons tech to Iran

More of my December 3 correspondence with Peter Lavelle, UPI Senior Analyst and whose blog, Untimely Thoughts, won a 2005 Pundita Weblog Award. The first part of our discussion revolved around Russia's telecom scandal and the Kremlin's nationalization push.

Peter's side of the exchange is shown in quotes. See this Pundita post if you need to refresh your memory about the weapons agreement under discussion

I note from a Reuters report that Russia's export agency claims to have no record of the SAMs sale agreement to Iran. Washington is seriously bent out of shape about the reported agreement. However, an unnamed diplomat said the deal made no sense. From various Russia news services, it seems there was indeed a deal. But why would Putin allow such a sale -- or does he have no control over it?

See this part of my weekly panel discussion with experts on Russia.(1) The panel doesn't directly answer your question but explains Russia's engagement of Iran and other "rogue states."

Okay; I have read the discussion at the link you sent me. Isn't Putin's position contradicting his 'state of the union' speech, in which he was clearly inspired by Bush's democracy doctrine?(2) Wasn't he speaking of Russia as becoming the "civilizing" influence in Central Asia and helping to lead the entire region to more liberal values?

I read an analysis of the speech (published on your site) that very nearly brought tears to my eyes. Was all that hot air? Wishful thinking on the part of the analyst? If not, there seems to be a contradiction between Putin's stated vision and what he's doing. Or not?

"Not at all. To have a liberal society, each state needs security from both domestic and foreign threats. There is an unstated myth in Western media - the Kremlin controls the "stans" - that is simply wrong. Russia's influence is very limited. What the Kremlin fears is the possibility of an Islamic republic coming to power on its ex-Soviet border. The Kremlin will accept just about anything from the old Soviet establishment to avoid this. The Kremlin's foreign policy regarding its southern flank is defensive in the extreme - it is playing the role of a fireman fearing the worst."

Interesting. So why agree to sell SAMs to Iran and moreover agree to help them modernize their air force across the board? Is the Kremlin being blackmailed by Tehran thugs in league with al Qaeda and Chechen hard-liners? See, it doesn't stack -- the reported missile deal and what you've written, which makes good sense.

"[...] SAMs are a defensive system by very definition."

Ah, but modernizing Iran's air force cuts both ways.

"Look, the US has lost the war in Iraq - everybody knows this. Iran isn't taking any chances the Bush "lie machine" won't target Iran next to cover its tracks. Iran is acting rationally. (I don't like the Iranian regime.) We have seen the same kind of US pressure against Syria lately. Again, Iran is acting defensively."

The contract was reportedly signed before the Kremlin lost patience with Tehran, so we'll see what happens next. A nuke-armed Iran is not in Russia's best interest, so my hope is that Putin will find a way to scotch or at least suspend the contract -- use it maybe as a carrot to encourage Iran's regime to give up nuke weapon development.

Wars are not won or lost before they're over. If any war drags on longer than a year, it settles down to each side trying to take advantage of the other's mistakes.
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The close reader will note that Peter's last reply attempts to switch the ground of discussion by attacking Bush's prosecution of the war. My impression is that Peter's response reflects how the Kremlin (and I assume the Russian military) tries to gloss the inherent contradiction in their approach to Iran.

The last thing the Kremlin needs in their region is a nuke-armed despotic regime under pressure from the most radical Islamist elements. The problem for Russia is that at this point they can't depend on backup from the European Union or China, if they take a hard stand about Iran's nuclear weapons program.

To say Russia could depend on backup from the United States -- since when? The State Department has very recently softened their harsh rhetoric toward Russia, but that is no assurance the US wouldn't leave Russia bouncing on a limb. The US government does not yet speak with one voice on the US approach to Tehran.

At the risk of repeating myself endlessly, if we want more cooperation from Russia on the issue of Iran (and Syria), we first need to get very clear on how the US should approach Iran then seek greater cooperation from Brussels and Beijing.


2) President Putin's remarks in his 2005 "speech to the nation" sketch an ambitious vision that is easily picked apart and compared with the record. However, several of his statements reveal a determination to move Russia toward the lofty goals outlined in Bush's democracy doctrine. Putin set the bar high, which invites close scrutiny and criticism of his record during the rest of his term. That, in itself, is a credit to his thinking.

Here are the parts of the speech that especially impressed me and touched off my questions to Peter Lavelle about the troubling contradiction I noted in the Kremlin's approach to Iran's despotic regime:

April 25, 2005
The Kremlin, Moscow
The Russian President's
Annual Address to the Federal Assembly

"...Russia should continue its civilising mission on the Eurasian continent. This mission consists in ensuring that democratic values, combined with national interests, enrich and strengthen our historic community.

"...the terrible lessons of the past also define imperatives for the present. And Russia, bound to the former Soviet republics – now independent countries – through a common history, and through the Russian language and the great culture that we share, cannot stay away from the common desire for freedom.

"Today, with independent countries now formed and developing in the post-Soviet area, we want to work together to correspond to humanistic values, open up broad possibilities for personal and collective success, achieve for ourselves the standards of civilisation we have worked hard for – standards that would emerge as a result of common economic, humanitarian and legal space."

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