Thursday, August 28, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Playing ‘Iranian Card’ Could Allow Moscow to Control Persian Gulf, Russian Expert Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 28 – Moscow has “a multitude” of ways to counter the pressure Western countries are bringing to bear on the Russian Federation since its military action in Georgia, but none promises a greater return than forming an alliance with Iran, something that would allow Moscow to control the Persian Gulf, according to a leading Russian specialist on Iran.
In an article in today’s “Vremya Novostei,” Radzhab Safarov, the director of the Russian Center for the Study of Contemporary Iran, argues that Moscow will gain by establishing closer ties with “those countries which are really opposing the expansion of the United States and its satellites (
Among those, he continues, are Cuba and Syria, “but the most serious step which the United States and especially Israel (which by the way supplied arms to the Georgians) especially fear is the possible revision by Russia of its foreign policy in relation to Iran” and a rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran.
The formation of “a strategic union,” Safarov continues, “could change the entire geopolitical picture of the contemporary world” because it could lead to the location on Iranian soil of two Russian bases, one in the north which would give Moscow additional leverage over Azerbaijan and a second in the south which would allow Russia to control the Persian Gulf.
With the latter, he argues, “Russia would have the chance for the first time to stop suspicious ships and check their cargoes just as the Americans have been cynically doing in this zone for many decades,” a chance that Moscow could employ to control the flow of oil out of the Middle East and thus have additional leverage in the oil-thirsty countries of Europe and Asia.
One obvious first step, the Iranian specialist says, would be to accelerate the process of the formation of a gas cartel resembling OPEC in oil. Russia has the largest reserves of natural gas, and Iran has the second largest, Safarov says. And together they control more than 60 percent of all proved reserves of this critical fuel.
Iran would clearly benefit from that, he suggests, but to get Tehran to agree to Russian bases, Moscow would have to help Iran with anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems as well as to increase “cooperation in practically all spheres, including nuclear energy,” something Iran wants and that Russia would benefit from financially.
And Safarov adds that there is an additional reason for Moscow to consider such ties with Iran: Given what he describes as “the rapid collapse of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which Georgia has left, Russia could accelerate the process of the inclusion of Iran as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
That would cement Moscow’s links to much of the Muslim world, Safarov adds, and would led additional weight to the SCO because of Iran’s capabilities. And in the more distant future, that could lay “the foundation of a powerful strategic axis of Russia, Iran and China,” one that he suggests “the United States and its allies are so afraid of.”
There is as yet no indication that the Kremlin has any intention of moving as far in this direction as Safarov urges or that Iran, which in recent weeks has been pursuing closer ties with Turkey, would agree. But given Moscow’s belief that its Georgian moves have shown the world that Caspian basin oil must flow through Russia, what Safarov says is clearly a logical next step.
And indeed it would not represent a departure either from longstanding Russian interests in moving south – one thinks of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s call for Russian soldiers to “wash their boots” in the sea to Russia’s south – or from Moscow’s recent involvement in the development of Iran’s nuclear program.
Safarov’s article may thus be intended to test the reaction among both Russian elites and the West about a potential step that would as he says dramatically change the geo-political and geo-economic balance of power not only in the Middle East but across much of the oil and gas-hungry world.

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