Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 125

Although several Russian press commentaries have claimed that President Vladimir Putin’s proposal that the United States and Russia jointly establish a radar base at Gabala, Azerbaijan, has somehow shaken up Washington and NATO, this appears to be wishful thinking (RIA-Novosti, June 14; Kommersant, June 9). NATO and the U.S. government have both indicated that NATO will not block Washington’s original proposal to build a radar base in the Czech Republic and a base for interceptors in Poland. Instead, the real problem for Russia appears to be Iran, which, with good reason, appears to be quite irritated by Putin’s proposal.

Indeed, Putin’s proposal and Iran’s reaction highlight the essential contradictions and self-serving nature of Russia’s policy. Even during the G-8 meetings where Putin made his proposal, Kommersant reported that sources in Washington had interpreted it as an indication that Russia had agreed to recognize Iran as a real proliferation threat and take a big step toward Washington, showing Tehran who Putin really considered to be Russia’s real partner (Kommersant, June 8).

Iran’s parliament immediately released a special statement condemning the proposal, “Iran will not permit itself to be turned into an instrument for resolving conflicts between world powers” (Izvestiya, June 15). Iranian press commentary was not much better, calling Putin’s proposal intolerable, shameless, and deplorable (Aftab- e Yazd, Jomhuri-ye Eslami, June 10). Obviously what rankles Iranian elites is that Russia now publicly admits to Iran being a threat and that Moscow might be contemplating a deal with Washington at Iran’s expense. (Tehran-e-Emruz, June 11).

Iranian leaders also cannot be happy with statements by Russian officials such as, “Iranians know very well that our radars cover their territory entirely, and that is a reality the Iranians must entirely come to terms with” (Aftab-e Yazd, June 10). Similarly they see Russia as trying to gain security and economic advantages at Iran’s expense (Siyasat-e-ruz-Tehran, June 13). This proposal, and its endorsement by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, also rankles Tehran, because it suggests that its efforts to both ingratiate itself with Azerbaijan and let it be known that it can threaten Baku has evidently gone awry. Azerbaijan had previously agreed with Iran that it would not let its be territory be used by third parties for hostile actions against Iran. But this radar can easily be construed in Tehran as representing a direct threat to Iran’s security (RIA-Novosti, June 15). Thus Iranian MPs also warned Baku against endorsing this proposal (Iran, June 12).

While Iran’s public response has been muted, undoubtedly the private one to Moscow was much stiffer and strong enough to compel leading Russian officials to start backing away from the visible logic of Putin’s proposal. Within ten days of Putin’s offer, Iran stated that Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had told Tehran that Putin would not let his own proposal go through (Irna, June 17;, June 18). At his weekly news conference, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini said, “It seems Russia does not intend to make decisions that may result in instability and insecurity in a region in which it is located” (Irna, June 17). Foreign Minister Manuchehr Motaki then quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that Putin had only raised the Iran issue to distract Washington from Russia and China, which are supposedly the main concern for Washington (Fars News Agency, June 21).

These exposes of Russia’s duplicity forced Moscow to go public. Lavrov and Russia’s Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky both had to reiterate that Moscow does not consider Iran a threat and denied that Putin’s proposals was not serious. Baluyevsky even said that Washington had misinterpreted Moscow’s alleged claim that Russia now admitted to an Iranian threat. While Russia never denied a global threat, “We insist that this trend is not something catastrophic, which would require a global missile defense system be deployed near Russian borders” (RIA-Novosti-June 21). This statement, however, contradicts First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov’s long-standing public and private statements that one reason Russia wants to leave the INF treaty is because Iran and China are building so many intermediate-range ballistic missiles near Russia. Lavrov and his subordinates profess to be dismayed that the world believes Russia sees Iran as a threat and dismissed that interpretation, claiming that Iran is misinformed (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, June 20; Central Asia General Newswire, June 9). Instead it is U.S. missiles that a represent a threat to Russia and China (IRNA, June 20; Izvestiya, June 15).

Iran may not be able to cut ties with Russian right now, given Washington’s hostility toward Tehran. But Russia has gained nothing from its Gabala proposal, and Putin’s statements about the U.S. program suggest that General Staff has misled him about the supposed U.S. threat (Novaya gazeta, June 14-18). And if Iran is a threat, as Putin’s proposal clearly suggests, than throws Russian foreign policy into disarray, as Iran, like China, is its strategic partner. Now it appears that Russia’s friends are also its main threat.