Tuesday, July 07, 2009

russia's ever pragmatic affections

AsiaTimes | it appears the idea of a Russian-Iranian axis, popular in certain circles at the end of Boris Yeltsin's time in the late 1990s to the beginning of the Putin era, is passe. It shows that the relationship with Iran is pragmatic, opportunistic - and fleeting.

It also implies that Russia is pleased by the indications of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that America might delay implementing an anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe and that there is no viable US support of Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia over gas supplies.

Moscow has repeatedly insisted that the installation of US missiles in countries close to its borders would change the strategic balance in Europe and that such a deployment would be interpreted as a military threat.

The International Energy Agency warned this week that the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine may be disrupted at any time. Gazprom, the giant Russian utility, and Naftogaz, its Ukrainian counterpart, are at odds over unpaid Ukrainian gas bills. About 80% of Gazprom's gas shipments to Europe flow through Ukrainian pipelines. This is a quarter of the continent's demand for gas. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Ukraine could be required to pay in advance for its gas so as to prevent any further delays in payment.

In the bigger picture, Russia appears to be softening towards the US while adopting a more reserved approach to Iran. Moscow has watched the US's troubles in the Middle East and its overall geopolitical decline with some concern.

Continued instability in the Caucasus is viewed by the Russian elite as directly relating to Muslim global terrorism, as Medvedev made clear in recent comments. The Russian elite understands that the US's global departure could well expose Russia to the not very friendly, or, at least, unpredictable, Muslim world.

In this situation, Moscow would rather cooperate with the US than with Iran, which, in the long run, might create even more problems than the US. This could have a direct impact on the international pressure on Iran over its uranium-enrichment program, which many believe is not for peaceful purposes. This could result in more sanctions on Tehran in addition to the two rounds imposed by the United Nations and the unilateral ones slapped on by the US.