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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 45

Warning Signals for the US

RUSSIA-IRAN RELATIONS

Wednesday 31 October 2007, by Neha Kumar

The relationship between Iran and Russia have been strengthened by the historic visit of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to Iran. Russian President Putin paid a visit to Iran on October 16, 2007 despite the threats of assassination. Putin made it clear that the aim of the visit was to clear up ambiguities regarding the nuclear programme of Iran and to play an influential role in the Iran nuclear programme. Russia also attended a multilevel meeting, that is, the Caspian Sea meeting. This meeting was attended by Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and they warned the outside countries not to use their territory to launch military operations. This comes amid growing concern of possible US actions against Iran. Russian President Putin has confirmed that Russia will support construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant at Iran. Moscow also mentioned that it would not back further sanctions against Iran unless the IAEA says Iran is not cooperating or proves it is working on weapons. Russia further signed a contract to supply Iran with five Tu-204-100 aircraft In this sense, the visit of Russian President Putin to Iran is very important for their strategic relations.

Russia and Iran have many things in common, like, both oppose the US presence in Azerbaijan and Georgia, both are opposed to the proposal to demarcate the Caspian Sea, both agree on the need to confront the Al-Qaeda’s activities and both want to deal with the expansion of extremist Wahhabism and the resurgence of the Taliban in the region. The visit of the Russian President clearly marks a strategic breakthrough in the relationship between Iran and Russia but it also signifies a threat for the US. The reason is that the relations between Iran and the US are tense for a decade and the US is pressing the international community to stand up against Iran’s nuclear programme. The US regards Iran as a rogue state which supports terrorism and could launch attacks on US allies like Israel. The relations between Russia and the US are also tense during the last several months. It seems that Russia is building an alliance against the US.

The relationship between the US and Russia is further deteriorating due to differences on the issue of missile defence. Both countries held meetings recently to resolve their differences on missile defence. They also discussed the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and to extend the START 1 Treaty which would expire in 2012. But unfortunately both countries failed to reach any agreement. The US wants to have radars and interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland so as to detect the missile threat by Iran. On the other hand, Russia is opposed to any such proposal because these interceptors and radars would be capable of tracking missiles of Russia and would reduce its retaliatory capabilities. Russia feels that its deterrence will be in danger.

AS a result of this, Russia has started responding by various military and diplomatic means so as to signal to the US that it would not sit idle and accept the US plans without any murmur. It has recently tested the RS-24 missile, which could carry multiple independent warheads. Russia has claimed that this missile cannot be detected by the US missile defence system. Russia has also declared to speed up its missile development and has announced that it would soon deploy the S-400 anti-missile system around Moscow. Besides, Russia has indicated its intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty and has suspended its participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

Among diplomatic measures, Russia and China are coming close together and have conducted war games to show their military power in August 2007. Vladimir Putin during these war games ordered the Russian Air Force to resume the Cold War practice of long-range flights by strategic bombers. Observers say the exercise sent signals to Washington and Brussels. The political signal sent to the US was that it could not push the NATO into Central Asia.

President Putin’s visit to Iran could be seen as one of Russia’s diplomatic measures to prevent the US from establishing its hegemony in the region and yet another move to demonstrate its opposition of the US’ defensive plans. The US has remarked that it wants to establish missile defence so as to counter the ballistic missile threat from Iran; and in this context the Putin visit signifies that Russia would help Iran in making it stronger. During this visit, Iran wanted to secure the support of Russia for its Bushehr nuclear plant which Russia has left incomplete. Under such a situation, the enrichment process of Iran with the help of Russia, along with Shahab 3 or possibly with Shahab 4 missile in future will give it the capability to strike targets in the Middle East. The support of Russia is also very important for Iran because of its status of permanent membership in the Security Council. Russia could exercise its veto power so as to block any resolution moved in the Security Council. Russia could present as a counterweight to the US in the region. The Russian President’s visit to Iran is also against the US policy to isolate Iran in the region.

Another important factor to be noted is that arms transfer and nuclear build-up offer large trade to Russia. Nuclear power stations in Iran mean big business for Russia. Similarly, last year Russia signed 700 million dollars worth of contract with Iran for the transfer of 29 Russian surface- to-surface and surface-to-air missile systems. Iran has been a major purchaser of Russian military hardware for almost a decade. Putin has linked the arms export revenue to the country’s budget for development expenditure on scientific, engineering and manufacturing areas. Russia also has huge economic stakes in investing in Iran’s oil and gas resources. During this visit, both sides agreed to establish direct contact between two countries’ oil and gas companies so as to have mutually beneficial commercial agreements. Therefore, Russia has large political and economic interests in Iran and both are willing to come together and oppose the West’s policies.

All these developments are not in the interest of the US. The missile and nuclear facility of Iran is highly dependent on Russian help. Russia has not only helped Iran in its nuclear programmes, it also helped Iran to produce long-range missiles, manufacture model missiles and develop computer software. Without Russian help, Iran would not be able to make such rapid advances in its missile programme. There is also the possibility that in future, Russia could sell counter-measures technology to Iran so as to defeat the missile defence programme of the US. The alliance between Russia and Iran is very harmful not only for the US’ security but also its non-proliferation policies. The US should understand that its non- proliferation policies and defensive measures would have no significance unless it takes Russia into confidence.

The author is a Research Officer, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

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