|Russia and the CIS News Digest
Russians Respond Carefully to Iran Escalation
Two top Russian officials spoke out the weekend of Feb. 4-5 on the escalation of the crisis around Iran's nuclear program. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Athens, warned, "At this stage it is important not to make guesses about what will happen in Iran. And even more so, not to threaten that country." Lavrov noted that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had said he "does not exclude" the use of force, but portrayed British Foreign Minister Jack Straw as "completely excluding the use of force against Iran." In any event, Lavrov stressed that the UN Security Council will do nothing, except to be "informed" by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), under the IAEA vote of this past weekend. Lavrov concluded that Russia was looking forward to the early-March IAEA report and stressed that "under current circumstances, the use of force may only occur on the basis of the UN Charter."
Russian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who attended the Feb. 4-5 Wehrkunde conference in Munich, was shown on Russian TV making comments similar to the content of his interview, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Feb. 6. Ivanov said, "Russia is opposed to removal of the Iranian nuclear dossier from the competence of the IAEA and its complete transfer to the UN Security Council," because "we want to use absolutely every possibility to settle this delicate problem peacefully." Ivanov told the FAZ he still had hopes that "Iran will make a reasonable compromise, based on its own interests." He added, referring to the Russian plan for processing Iran's uranium in Russia, "We have made a good proposal. The Iranian leadership must make its decision soon."
Alluding to the ravings of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) about Russia's association with Iran, Ivanov said, "The notion that Russia plays the decisive role, does not correspond to reality. We have good relations with Iran. But we do not assume that Tehran will follow all of Moscow's advice."
Russian Commentators See Pre-War Situation
Even as Russian officials stressed the diplomatic efforts to defuse the Iran crisis, the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta headlined on Feb. 7, "Iran: The USA's New Target; Rumsfeld's Latest Argument; USA Prepared To Strike Iran Militarily." The article gave quotations from U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's interview in the German daily Handelsblatt, augmented by the even more strident statements of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) about resorting to military force, if diplomatic and economic sanctions don't force Iran to drop its nuclear program.
Many Russian media have played up statements by Rajab Safarov, head of the Center for Coordination of Russian-Iranian Programs and an adviser to both President Putin and the State Duma. RIA Novosti noted that Safarov talked about the existence in Iran of "voices in favor of changing Tehran's strategy on its nuclear program." At the same time, he warned that, "Iran, together with the entire world, is on the brink of 'fouling out' while waiting for the other side to do something." Safarov said that "the worst scenario" was not out of the question: referral of the Iranian dossier to the UNSC, followed by sanctions, at which point Iran might abandon all cooperation with the international community.
Safarov also said he feared things were moving in the direction of the use of force against Iran. He asserted that Israel "has a concrete plan to make good on these threats, under a plan culminating on March 28, when Israel would carry out precision bombing against Iran's nuclear and military targets." The Russian specialist then said Iran has a plan for retaliation.
The Rossiyskaya Gazeta article was accompanied by an interview with Yuri Glushchenko of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, who also outlined precise scenarios of how an armed conflict around Iran would unfold, with U.S. or Israeli strikes, followed by Iranian attempts to blockade the Straits of Hormuz.
Baku: No to U.S. Anti-Iran Ops from Azerbaijan
President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, at a Feb. 6 press conference, said that Azerbaijan would not allow U.S. military operations against Iran to be staged from its territory. Appearing together with Iranian envoy Soleymani, Aliyev added, "Even if the U.S. decides to attack Irannot a single state in the region, not even Western countries and the UN, will support Washington. Iran is not Iraq. The U.S. should rather think how to get out of the mess in Iraq."
Putin Makes State Visit to Spain
Russian President Vladimir Putin was received King Juan Carlos at the Zarzuela Palace Feb. 9, during his first state visit to Spain. In welcoming remarks, the king paid due to Putin's current stress on Russia's role as energy provider, mentioning "the vast energy resources which have transformed Russia into an indispensable partner in energy questions for Europe and its neighbors." With Russia being one of Spain's main suppliers of energy, the king said there are growing opportunities for Spanish companies in the Russian market, especially in energy and transport infrastructure. Putin met with executives of the energy companies Reposl/YPF, Iberdrola and Campofrio, as well as with reps from the aviation firm EADS-CASA, the high-speed rail company Talgo, and the banks BBVA and Banesto.
In a press conference after talks with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Putin condemned the current "cartoon" instigation of violence, urging that the situation be brought under control and that "peaceful dialogue start between cultures." The Spanish and Russian governments agreed upon a common statement on terrorism, in which both countries condemn terrorism in all forms.
Besides signing bilateral documents on energy security and the anti-terrorism and anti-drug fights, the leaders of the two countries also discussed the situations in Iraq, Iran, and the rest of Southwest Asia. The Spanish daily El Pais reported Feb. 9 that the Spanish government regards Putin's position vis à vis Hamasthe Russian President having said he will invite the new Palestinian leaders to visit Moscowas especially useful now, since it will allow Putin to maintain a dialogue and add to international pressure for the radicals to lay down their weapons. In the case of Iran, Zapatero called Putin the last interlocutor, capable of advancing negotiations which the Europeans have exhausted.
Foundation Wants 'NATO' for European Energy Security
Jamestown Foundation analyst Vladimir Socor called for a "NATO" equivalent to handle European energy security. He was speaking at a forum on the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis. Harvard economist Marshall Goldman told the gathering that the showdown had been a power play by the Putin regime, using energy resources to consolidate Russian influence in the region. But Socor laid out an aggressive "roll-back" option, attacking European nations, especially Germany, for being partners with Russia on natural gas supply pipelines. He called for an EU task force to work with Ukraine on energy issues, while also seeking to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkmenistan, whose gas resources are almost as abundant as those of Russia.
The Jamestown group dates back to 1984 as an organization working with high-level dissidents from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. Zbigniew Brzezinski is on the board, while Jamestown President Glen Howard co-chaired Brzezinski's (with Alexander Haig) project operation "Americans for Peace In Chechnya."
Russia-Georgia Tensions Increase
On Feb. 1 Georgian police detailed a Russian military truck close to the demarcation line with Georgia's breakaway region South Ossetia, which is policed by Russian peacekeeping forces. The next day a Russian-made missile, found in a tree (sic) in Kareli, close to the same border, was declared to have been planted there for the purpose of a terrorist act against President Michael Saakashvili. These events provided fuel for Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili's denunciations of Moscow, during the Feb. 4-5 Wehrkunde conference in Munich.
An escalation occurred Feb. 8, when (according to Russian media) 500 Georgian troops made a raid into South Ossetia and arrested three Russian officers. Givi Targamadze, chairman of the Georgian Parliament's Defense and Security Committee, proposed to prepare for "using force" to "kick out the Russian military contingent" from the Georgia-South Ossetia border zone. The Georgian Parliament has voted in favor of replacing the Russian peacekeepers with soldiers from other countries; feelers have gone out to Latvia and Ukraine, according to reports.