The Russian president, by accepting the American-Iranian agreement at the Security Council, has shown he is a serious player in international politics who knows how to give in. Is he thereby, producing his own “grand bargain” with the United States about Ukraine, it remains to be seen.
The agreement of the five permanent members of the Security Council, strengthened with Germany and Iran, was considered a great success for US diplomacy and President Obama personally, according to the first reactions, but a thorough analysis of its contents and geopolitical consequences shows that important “collateral winners” are Russia and especially China.
The most puzzling aspect is why the Russian president approving the agreement has helped the US considering the relations between Moscow and Washington are at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War and the two are taking completely inconsistent strategic tracks: Russia is eager to reaffirm its great power status, the US (and the allies) are doing everything to prevent it.
It seems, however, that there were some “higher” interests involved in this case, but also political, diplomatic and economic coercions, while it is much simpler to explain the position of China than Russia.
As far as Russia is concerned, at first sight they had more interest in obstructing the agreement, including the blocking, but in the end it eventually came to Obama thanking Putin, in a telephone call, for their assistance concluding that the agreement would not exist without Russia’s willingness to support him.
Russia’s support is a surprise, especially as anticipated gradual lifting of sanctions against Iran returns important supplier on the oil market (Tehran has already announced plans to double its exports), which will result in a new reduction of prices – the direct damage to Russia’s revenue from its most important export item.
Indeed, the Russian “yes” on compromise that was primarily arranged between the heads of the American and Iranian diplomacy, John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, was a surprise, especially if you take into account that their counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in his occasional appearances in Geneva, Lausanne and Vienna, where he guided the negotiating marathon, personally did not contribute to the elimination of any delays.
Moreover, Russia has got things complicated on several occasions: in mid-April they announced the abolition of the unilateral ban on delivery of their famous S-300 defense system to Iran, which dates from 2010 (provoking protests from the US and Israel), while at the same time, they were determining details of trade the Iranian oil for Russian industrial products and food, which should undermine the encirclement of the western sanctions against Tehran, to some extent.
Russia’s motive for the shift could be anticipated by the action of Sergei Lavrov, who, before the press conference, revealed that the historic agreement has been reached, rushed to declare that it eliminates all the reasons for the deployment of interceptor missiles on the territory of European allies, which the Pentagon defended with future threats from Iranian missiles with nuclear warheads.
It is expected that the Russian pressure to abandon the system of the missile shield, which is to be deployed in Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Turkey, would increase and the argument in support could also be the statement of Barack Obama from Prague in April 2009, that missile defense will not be necessary “if we remove the Iranian threat.”
Military experts, however, believe that the shield is not substantial threat to Russia, but that the real goal of Moscow is to undermine the US presence in Europe and to bring the rift in the ranks of NATO (which is partially successful).
Another, even more important reason for Russia’s consent on the agreement with Iran is the fact that Moscow’s refusal risks to spoil relations with Beijing, with which, after entering into a new confrontation with the West on the occasion of Ukraine, became more interconnected.
Finally, Putin has further proven to be a serious actor in international politics who knows how to give in. Is he, thereby, producing his own “grand bargain” with the United States about Ukraine, it remains to be seen. To begin with, more attention should be drawn to the Victoria Nuland’s meetings with Deputy of the Russian Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin.