The joys of dealing with Putin’s Russia.
First, from Stratfor:
The Israelis also understand the Russia factor. Russia is engaged in an ongoing struggle to win Washington’s recognition of its influence in the former Soviet region. So far, the United States hasn’t given Russia what it wants. Consequently, Russia continues to flaunt the leverage it has with the United States over its ties to Iran. Not only can Russia completely destroy the effectiveness of a U.S.- led sanctions regime, but it can provide Iran with critical weapons systems that could seriously complicate an attack against Iran down the road. The Israelis simply are not seeing the value in delaying much longer.
Israel therefore is leaning heavily on the United States to reach some sort of compromise with Moscow and bring the Russians in line on the Iran issue.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a statement on Wednesday that might indicate that such a compromise has a chance â€” however slight â€” of happening. “I told the president of the United States that we think it necessary to help Iran make the right decision,” Medvedev said, with just the right touch of ambiguity. “As for various types of sanctions, Russia’s position is very simple, and I spoke about it recently. Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, the use of sanctions is inevitable. Ultimately, this is a matter of choice, and we are prepared to continue cooperating with the U.S. administration on issues relating to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, as well as other matters.”
This is a notable shift in tone coming out of Moscow, but does not yet signify that a deal has been made between the Americans and the Russians that would alleviate the crisis over Iran. Our Russian sources are hinting that something bigger may be under way, but they also have made it clear that this is just the beginning of negotiations. One source in particular has indicated that thus far, Washington is at least considering a Russian demand to postpone the U.S. deployment of a Patriot air defense battery in Poland. In return, Moscow would stick to its pledge to delay delivery of the S-300 strategic air defense system to Iran. In essence, this would be a mutual commitment to postpone commitment to their strategic allies.
A few comments.
First, many US commentors and Obama cheerleaders have seized on Medvedev’s words–which Stratfor rightly characterizes as ambiguous–like drowning men grasping at straws. Note: (a) Medvedev doesn’t matter, Putin does, (b) there is so much wiggle room in this statement it means nothing, and (c) there are more examples of Russian now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, Lucy-and-the-football dekes than it is possible to count. There’s a sucker born every minute, and anyone who relies on Medvedev’s words is a sucker indeed.
Second, note Medvedev’s use of the phrase “Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” That is, he does not even concede acknowledge that Iran’s program is explicitly intended to develop a nuclear weapon. Given Russia’s enabling of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this isn’t surprising. But note that this formulation gives Russia a perfect escape valve from supporting any sanctions: why would you impose sanctions on a “peaceful” program. Until Russia officially and unambiguously acknowledges that Iran’s nuclear program is military in nature, there is no reason whatsoever to place any reliance on Russian support against Iran.
Third, note the disgusting, revolting immoral equivalence here. Iran=Poland. On the one hand: A totalitarian dictatorship that supports terrorism; a virulently anti-American and anti-Western regime; a Holocaust celebrator (not denier); an aggressive, irredentist nation; a crazed, millenarian theocracy. On the other: a democracy that has supported the battle against terror and tyranny; pro-Western and pro-American; a nation that has grappled with its anti-Semitic past; a nation that is merely looking to defend itself from the predations of outsiders rather than dominate others; a religious, but politically secular country.
Contra Obama, and pace Mark Steyn: Nations should be–must be–defined by their differences. The differences between Iran and Poland are so stark that the foregoing list barely even scratches the surface. To treat Poland as a bargaining chip with the Russians in dealing with Iran is beyond disgusting.
And note: the Russians will just take any concession and ask for more. Note very well: when it comes to Eastern Europe, the former Soviet space, and Poland in particular, Russia wants the United States to make very public concessions so as to undermine American credibility among these nations, all the better to induce them to reach an accommodation with Russia: an accommodation that will effectively concede Russian suzerainty.
Iran is important. But to make concessions to Russia in the vain hope of making progress on containing the Iranians would be a strategic mistake of historic dimensions, not to mention a deep stain on American honor. (How’s that for Jacksonian, Steve?)
Russian grabbiness is not limited to the diplomatic sphere. It also extends to energy. (You’re shocked to read this, I’m sure.) Yes, Putin the Spider (too bad his first name isn’t Boris) is more than willing to lure Western energy firms into his Arctic web, but on his terms:
This looks like a proposal to form a cartel-type arrangement of gas (mainly LNG) exporters through price-formation and market share allocation. Russia would provide the gas resources while international companies would provide the technology and, presumably, share in a commercial bonanza through this arrangement. Moscow probably hopes that some international companies would vie with each other to be picked for the project on this basis.
The conditions for participation would, however, force the international companies to turn over to Gazprom their own competitive assets and lose some of their revenue sources. As spelled out by Shmatko and Economic Development Minister Elvira Nabiullina, international strategic partners in this project would be asked to: transfer Western technologies for the manufacturing of advanced drilling equipment, onshore and offshore, to Russia; allow Gazprom direct access to gas markets in consumer countries, using the distribution networks of partner companies; recognize a right for Russian companies to acquire energy infrastructure on territories of consumer countries; and assist Gazprom with marketing methods and personnel training (Interfax, RBK, September 24).
So, Russia gives access to Yamal in exchange for: money, technology, expertise, access to Western domestic markets (which Putin knows will be protected by Western legal norms), marketing, and training. And, rest assured, that access to Yamal and the goodies of the cartel arrangement can be taken away at a whim–and likely will be taken away once the gas actually flows.
In other words: asynchronous performance. The Western companies do everything today: the Russians “promise” to do something later. Another sucker’s game.
Will there be any suckers to play? Sad to say, the answer is likely “yes.” I would hope that anti-trust authorities in nations intending to import Yamal gas, and in nations whose companies would participate in the project, will subject any such agreement to intense scrutiny.
The energy majors–and the Europeans–would be much better advised to do things like ramp up exploration of shale gas in Europe than invest huge sums in Yamal.
One has to have some grudging admiration for Russia’s aggressive negotiating, given its fundamental economic, demographic, political, and social weaknesses. By the same token, one has to have nothing but disdain for those who seem more than willing to be duped and pushed around by a has-been giant with feet of clay.