Russian support for Iran sanctions at risk amid Georgia rift
The US bid to promote a fourth round of sanctions may get lost amid sharp dispute over Russian military action in Georgia.
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Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin mocked the US effort. "I'm amazed by their skills at seeing black as white, of portraying aggressors as victims," Mr. Putin said. "Some of our partners, far from assisting us, are attempting to impede us [by transferring Georgian troops] on board US aircraft directly to the conflict zone."Skip to next paragraph
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Former Soviet leader and Nobel laureate Mikhail Gorbachev also blamed the US and the West more generally for military training and political support that "emboldened Georgian leaders."
"By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its 'national interest,' the United States made a serious blunder," Mr. Gorbachev wrote in The Washington Post and Rossiyskaya Gazeta in Moscow.
The effect will be felt beyond the Caucasus. Noting that the US wants Russia to support sanctions against Iran and to not sell weapons – "particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system" – an analysis from Stratfor, an intelligence analysis firm, said Wednesday that the Russians "have backed the Americans into a corner."
"Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue," notes Stratfor. The US must either "reorient" away from the Mideast to the Caucasus, or "seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran."
The US has canceled a joint NATO naval exercise with Russia due to begin this week, and the US and Europeans are debating further steps, which include kicking Russia out of a series of regional groupings including the G-8 industrialized nations, returning it to the original G-7.
The harsh rhetoric comes on top of a host of issues that have rankled the once-close post-Soviet US relationship with Russia. They include expansion of the NATO alliance to Russia's western borders, US insistence on placing missile-defense units – aimed at one day stopping an Iranian missile – in eastern Europe, and strong support for a string of democratic revolutions in nations that were once part of the Soviet Union. Georgia's "Rose Revolution" was the first, in 2003.
"Even if there are no more UN sanctions on Iran, at least there can still be more US and European sanctions," says a US diplomat who follows Iranian issues.
The US Treasury on Tuesday imposed sanctions on five more Iranian companies it called "nuclear and missile entities … used by Iran to hide its illicit conduct and further its dangerous nuclear ambitions."
"I think [Russia has] been playing us when it comes to sanctions and stringing it out for years and years," says McFaul. "They've never wanted sanctions, and our position has moved to theirs, not vice versa. If you go back 12 years ago, we were debating whether there should be a Bushehr [nuclear reactor]. Now we are well beyond that today."
But while the sanctions are affecting commercial ties, Iranian leaders insist the modest layers of UN, US, and EU sanctions in place are not the reason for the dire state of Iran's economy. Experts point out that the high price of oil is a salve.
Iran benefits, too, from having the international spotlight turned on Georgia and away from its nuclear gamesmanship.
"It seems to be overshadowing the Iran nuclear issue, at least for some time," says the Tehran analyst. "It makes it more difficult at the UN and the P5 [permanent five members of the Security Council] to sit down and talk about the nuclear issue when there is a conflict as well going on."