Putin, Iran, Nuke Talks And First Strikes

Vladimir “Pooty Poot” Putin, with the opportunity to either back the words of Russia’s president that sometimes sanctions are just necessary or the Foreign Minister’s words of yesterday, chose to back the FM’s:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned major powers on Wednesday against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme was “premature”.

Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia’s paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.

“There is no need to frighten the Iranians,” Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

“We need to look for a compromise. If a compromise is not found, and the discussions end in a fiasco, then we will see.”

“And if now, before making any steps (towards holding talks) we start announcing some sanctions, then we won’t be creating favourable conditions for them (talks) to end positively. This is why it is premature to talk about this now.”

There’s more afoot here than just stiffing the US, although that seems to have become a bit of a game for the Russians lately. Iran is very important in the Russian scheme to have hegemony over its “near abroad”. It is interested in Iran, not because of its oil, but mostly because of its natural gas. Russia is the major supplier of NG to Europe. Iran is another potential source. Russia sees an advantage in exercising nominal control over Iran’s supply of NG by maintaining friendly relations. That control allows them to use the supply of NG as leverage. Power and money talk – “reset” buttons don’t.

Another little change in Russia’s approach to the world today is their possible change in their nuclear arms strategy:

Russia is weighing changes to its military doctrine that would allow for a “preventive” nuclear strike against its enemies – even those armed only with conventional weapons. The news comes just as American diplomats are trying to get Russia to cut down its nuclear stockpile, and put the squeeze on Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Not exactly the position you’d like to see them take if you have a goal of reducing nuclear stockpiles. And note that Russia not only reserves the right to make a preemptive nuclear strike, but reserves that right to use nuclear weapons against a foe that is armed with conventional weapons only.

As for those talks, this seems to be the Russian negotiating position:

In the interview, he takes a swipe at the United States and NATO, saying that the alliance “continues to press for the admission of new members to NATO, the military activities of the bloc are intensifying, and U.S. strategic forces are conducting intensive exercises to improve the management of strategic nuclear weapons.”

In other words, Moscow is holding to a hard line, precisely at a time when Washington is trying to play nice. The administration wants the Kremlin’s help – to pressure Iran, to revive the arms-control process – but the bear still needs to brandish nukes.

Cutting through the clutter, it seems their initial demands will have little to do with nukes and everything to do with what they deem encroachments into their sphere of influence. That may lead to some talks about nuke stockpiles, but it appears those may end up aimed mostly at US reductions and not so much those of the Russians (who may claim to have unilaterally gotten rid of many nukes because they couldn’t afford to keep them up during the transition from the USSR to its present state).

In the meantime, it is reported that the US will allow Russian inspectors on US sites – apparently granted with absolutely nothing in return. Again.

If you have the feeling we’re going to get rolled in any future nuclear arms talks, join the club.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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