It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day.
Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider
what might happen tomorrow.
AFTER A WEEK OF SILENCE following the Oct. 1 talks with Iran in Geneva, Russian officials issued a series of statements Tuesday. First, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Borodavkin told Itar-Tass directly that Russia intends to continue its military-technical cooperation with Iran, though within the strict framework of international laws on such matters. Borodavkin's statement comes in response to U.S. and Israeli demands for Russia to stop supporting Iran. Later in the day, National Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev denied a report in Britain’s Sunday Times that stated Israel had confronted Moscow with evidence that Russian scientists were aiding Iran in the development of a nuclear weapons program. Russia has been in a tense position since the Geneva talks. Though the P-5+1 and Tehran reached a tentative agreement to allow Iran's nuclear facilities to be inspected, under the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Washington and Tehran are still heading toward a crisis. At the heart of this crisis is Russia: It is Russia that is helping Iran with its civilian nuclear program, and Russia is the country that could undermine the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Moscow also occasionally raises the specter of more significant military assistance to Iran, in the form of modern strategic air defense systems like the S-300. If Russia was directly linked to the crisis, it would wreck Moscow's ability to negotiate not only with the United States but with the West as a whole, including Europe. In the past week, a flurry of leaks has escalated tensions between the United States and Iran. There was a leak from the IAEA stating that Iran's nuclear program is much more advanced than previously thought, as well as leaks from the United States that the government is re-examining its intelligence estimates on Iran's program. But what was really interesting was the leak about Israel's evidence that Russia is helping Iran with its nuclear weapons program (instead of nuclear energy for civilian purposes). This leak not only heightened the sense of an impending crisis between the United States and Iran, but also pointed a finger directly at Russia. Yet Russia was silent for a week after the Geneva talks, and for three days after the Sunday Times reported the accusations against it. But the silence has now been broken. The Russians took their time deciding how to respond on all fronts. As expected, Moscow denied that it was helping Iran develop a weapons program. For Russia to achieve its goal, it must be seen as supportive of Iran, but not as the cause of the turmoil between Washington and Tehran. If Russia was directly linked to the crisis, it would wreck Moscow's ability to negotiate not only with the United States but with the West as a whole, including Europe. While Russia distances itself from the leaked Israeli accusation, it is the statement from Borodavkin that is critical. Russia is reserving the right to continue its military relationship with Iran, despite the U.S. and Israeli demands to stop. Russia is pushing the United States into a dilemma. Moscow sees three possible outcomes of the crisis. First, the United States could try to cut a deal with the Russians: Washington would concede on issues in Moscow's sphere of influence, in exchange for Russia backing away from Iran. But the United States would have to give up much more than missile defense in Europe. Russia wants control in the former Soviet sphere and in Europe. The second possible outcome would be the United States backing down on the Iran issue, which Russia would see as a very public demonstration of Washington's weakness. The third possibility is that the United States would take military action against Iran and get involved in a third war in the Middle East. The Russians believe that as long as Washington is focused on Iran, it cannot also be focused on their actions. Moscow is playing a complex and dangerous game with Iran and the United States. For the past several years, Russia has made it clear to the United States that it wanted Washington to quit meddling in its periphery and recognize Russia as the predominant Eurasian power. The United States, under the previous and current administrations, ignored Russia's demands. Russia has proven recently — through the August 2008 Russo-Georgian war, for example — that it cannot be ignored. As it seeks to push back against the United States, Moscow does not see a downside to the U.S.-Iranian crisis, except possibly one: A short, sharp air and naval campaign that hurls Iran back a generation, combined with a U.S. pullout from Iraq and Afghanistan, would leave Russia without its Iran card, and looking at an angry United States that has a very free hand.