In the wake of the recent revelation that Iran has been operating a clandestine nuclear enrichment facility, Russia has talked as if there may be some shift in its views on sanctioning Iran. Specifically, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has said that “sanctions are seldom productive but they are sometimes inevitable.”
Seizing upon this utterance, some are claiming that President Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia has been vindicated. Adrian Pabst of the Guardian declares: “With the ‘reset’ of US-Russian relations, the Kremlin has performed a spectacular ‘rethink’ of its Iran policy.” That’s an awful lot to read into a statement that “sanctions are sometimes inevitable.”
Pabst’s colleague Simon Tisdall is even less restrained:
Russia’s new-found readiness to consider the “far tougher” sanctions demanded by Gordon Brown at the UN this week is doubtless linked to this confirmation of Iranian bad faith. But it also has an evident bilateral dimension in terms of Moscow’s relations with the US.
All those who were writing off Barack Obama last week as a foreign policy lightweight may now reflect at leisure on how he has achieved two major objectives in almost as many days: Russia is back on side, for now at least, thanks to his decision to re-model European missile defence. And China is now isolated in the security council in opposing new sanctions on Iran – a position it always tries to avoid on any major issue, and which it may now find untenable.
But after Iran was caught “red-handed” (Tisdall’s phrase), Russia was not likely to say nothing. The things it has said, however, hardly demonstrate that Russia will consider, much less support, tough sanctions. Moreover, Tisdall provides no evidence for his claim that whatever position Russia ends up taking will be attributable to Obama’s “reset” in general or the decision to abandon the Eastern European missile shield in particular. Most likely, Russia’s position will be attributable to Russia’s perception of its interests, as opposed to any desire to reward Obama for concessions he has already made.
We should also consider the possible impact on Russia’s thinking of another recent, and insufficiently noted, development — Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Russia. Naturally, we don’t know what Netanyahu told the Russians. However, it’s pretty clear that he didn’t make this unprecedented trip just to chit-chat. One can easily imagine that Netanyahu said, or strongly intimated, that Israel is prepared to attack Iran unless Russia gets “back on side” (Tisdall’s phrase) with respect to sanctions.
I’d like to think that Obama and Netanyahu engaged in concerted action — Obama providing the carrot and Netanyahu the stick. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that the two did, or would, collaborate to that degree. It seems more likely that Netanyahu went to Russia precisely because he had lost any faith in the ability or willingness of the U.S. to influence Russian behavior.
Via Emanuele Ottolenghi, who wonders why Obama didn’t wait to see what impact disclosure of the clandestine facility had on Russia before “sacrific[ing] an American promise to trusted allies.”