Russia‘s new “czar,” Vladimir Putin, has much more on his agenda than just invading Georgia. As former Reagan administration diplomat Robert Kagan has argued, Mr. Putin is “making his move” to restore Russia’s superpower status.
Russia’s support for Iran and its nuclear ambitions is a large part of Mr. Putin’s global strategy. It’s time to face facts about Russia’s deep involvement in Iran and recognize that here, too, Russia is no longer an ally, and hardly a friend.
Just two days before the invasion of Georgia, Russia again came to the aide of a recalcitrant Iranian regime, even as the United States and its allies were counting on Russia’s support to increase pressure on Tehran.
At issue was a hard deadline for Iran to suspend its nuclear programs on Aug. 2, in exchange for a package of U.S.-backed incentives. But Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, pretended there was no deadline, and called Iran’s stalling tactics “negotiating opportunities.”
Russia’s double-talk on Iran is reminiscent of Cold War propaganda, when Soviet “diplomats” lied egregiously without even a smirk of shame. A non-answer by Iran was supposed to trigger a new round of sanctions at the United Nations, but Russia is signaling it won’t play ball.
Even before the invasion of Georgia, Russia’s behavior should have come as no surprise. Why? Because Russia is Iran’s foremost ally.
Can this possibly be shocking to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top aides? Not if they know recent history. And yet, the desire to wish away the truth would appear to be strong in them.
A 1995 Russian national security memo, obtained by Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, who had it translated by the CIA, identifies the United States as “the main external force potentially capable of creating a threat to the Russian Federation military security and to Russia’s economic and political interests.”
The memo, written by a top adviser to the Russian defense minister and stamped “approved” by the defense minister’s office, sketches out a new Russian policy to contain the United States in the Persian Gulf. “And in case Russia is persistently driven into a corner, then it will be possible to undertake to sell military nuclear and missile technologies to such countries as Iran and Iraq, and to Algeria after Islamic forces arrive in power there,” the memo states.
“Moreover, Russia’s direct military alliance with some of the countries mentioned also should not be excluded, above all with Iran, within the framework of which a Russian troop contingent and tactical nuclear weapons could be stationed on the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”
Just idle talk? Consider the following facts:
c Just one month after he was briefed on this memo, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev went to Iran to discuss military cooperation. His visit paved the way for a sweeping 10-year cooperation agreement the two countries signed Dec. 28, 1995.
c Two months after the briefing, Russia began shipping to Iraq gyroscopes scavenged from dismantled SS-18 strategic nuclear missiles.
c Within four months of the briefing, the Russian government authorized Russian missile experts to travel to Iran, to work on jointly developing a new generation of nuclear missiles for Iran. Those missiles became the Shahab-3, which Iran parades about the streets of Tehran with signs in English that read “Israel will be wiped off the map.”
Also in 1995, the text of a secret military nuclear cooperation agreement between Russia and Iran was leaked to the Western media that included the provision of a “nuclear test shaft” and a turnkey enrichment plant.
Alarmed by the news reports, President Clinton got Mr. Yeltsin to publicly announce during their May 1995 summit in Moscow that Russia was renouncing the “military aspects” of the nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran. Since then, more than 20 Russian companies - including the Russian Space Agency - have been identified in congressional testimony for having provided ballistic missile technology to Iran. And Russia continues to be Iran’s top nuclear facilitator, having provided low-enriched fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant (built by Russia) earlier this year.
No amount of cajoling or play-acting will get the Russians to be helpful in stopping Iran’s methodical quest for nuclear weapons. Russia may even want Iran to go nuclear, since the increased world tension will drive up oil prices (Russia’s biggest export) and seriously challenge U.S. predominance in the Persian Gulf, long a strategic Russian goal.
It’s time to stop the charade. Let Russia veto a new sanctions resolution at the United Nations and explain their vote to the Israeli Air Force.
Russia’s waiting game only plays into the hands of an Iranian regime determined to run out of the clock of the Bush administration. In the meantime, with each passing day, Iran enriches more uranium, bringing it ever closer to the day it will have enough to make a bomb, or that Israel will feel compelled to act alone.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a contributing editor to Newsmax Media and is the author of “Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran ” (Crown Forum).