Russia is wary of any international action similar to the UN resolution on Libya, which parlayed a mandate to protect civilians into a drive for regime change.
IHS Jane's Analysis/GeoEye Satellite Image/AP/File
Moscow is offering tepid support for US criticisms of Iran's alleged drive to obtain nuclear weapons but also taking practical steps to reassure Tehran that it too opposes the West's harsh sanctions and covert military pressures that look increasingly like a march to war.
Experts say Russia is unlikely to acquiesce to any measures that look, to Moscow's eyes, like a replay of last year's United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya that parlayed a mandate to protect civilians into a drive for regime change. The US has sought stronger Security Council action against not only Iran but also Syria, where the Assad regime's crackdown on a 10-month uprising has resulted in death of at least 5,000 Syrians.
"Russia supported various Western initiatives in the past, and the general consensus in Moscow is that they produced zero results for us," says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute of Near Eastern Studies in Moscow. "The West has no credibility here anymore. Iran is a nearby neighbor for Russia, and a potentially dangerous one. We don't want it to get nuclear weapons, but at the same time we fear war would engulf the region in turmoil and spread to Russian territory in the northern Caucasus. . . The view is that Russia must chart its own course based on its own interests; if we don't look out for ourselves, who will?"
In a statement Tuesday, as news emerged that Iran has begun enriching uranium in a mountainside bunker near the holy city of Qom, Russia's Foreign Ministry agreed with Western perceptions that Iran is being uncooperative in efforts to ascertain the extent of its nuclear program and ensure it falls within legal limits.
"We have to acknowledge that Iran is continuing to ignore the international community's demands on dispelling concerns about its nuclear activities, including through (refusing to suspend) the construction of an enrichment facility near the city of Qom," the statement said.
But though Russia expressed "regret and worry" over Iran's nuclear moves, it coupled that with an urgent call for the resumption of diplomatic negotiations on Iran's nuclear program and an appeal to all sides to refrain from "ill-considered and abrupt moves." Moscow's statement insisted that that "any problems related to the Iranian nuclear program must be resolved exclusively through negotiations and the mutually respectful dialogue on the basis of gradual and reciprocal steps."
It's probably no coincidence that this week also saw Moscow and Tehran announce that they are abandoning the use of US dollars in bilateral trade, a move that will help to insulate Iran from falling dollar income as US-backed sanctions against its oil exports kick in.
Also on Tuesday, Russian media triumphantly reported the arrival of the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only operational aircraft carrier, and accompanying warships in the Syrian port of Tartous, a visit whose message seems aimed at discouraging any talk of Libya-style Western intervention in strife-torn, Iran-allied Syria.