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Factbox: Russia And The Iran Nuclear Crisis

Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani (right) and Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh, in Moscow on March 1 (epa) Tehran announced on March 12 that a Russian proposal to move Iran's enrichment program to Russia is "off" the agenda and that it will not consider any proposal that does not guarantee "Iran's right to nuclear research."

Since Russia began in 2005 its mediation of the Iranian nuclear crisis, Moscow has never explicitly stated its policy or ambitions.

Moscow has a common interest with the United States in not allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons. Most Russian politicians and experts agree that Tehran is close to doing so.

According to a March report from the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Iran needs from 18 months to five years to produce nuclear weapons. Aleksei Arbatov, the director of the Moscow-based International Security Center of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said on March 10 that, after Iran achieves full uranium enrichment, it could be only six months away from the creation of an atomic bomb. However, Iran reportedly needs more than two years to achieve full uranium enrichment.


Russia is against Iran having nuclear weapons largely because:

  • It could strengthen Iran as a regional power and reduce its dependence on other powers, including Russia.
  • It could shift the balance of power in the Middle East and weaken Israel. That is not in Moscow's interest as it is seeking stronger ties with Jerusalem.
  • It could encourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and jeopardize the whole status of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
  • It could create political stabilization, which could cause a slump in oil prices.


There are other reasons Moscow is keen to play the role of mediator -- and neutralize Iran's role. In geopolitical terms, Russia is looking to:

  • Reduce the influence of the United States in the region (and strengthen its own role).
  • Stabilize the situation on its southern border and isolate its own Muslim population from the impact of radical Islam.


There are a number of economic reasons for Russia to beef up its influence in the Middle East:

  • To provide regional access for its petrochemical companies.
  • By cooperating further with regional energy companies, Russia could minimize competition for its oil and gas on European and Asian markets.
  • To partially control Iran's nuclear-power sector by selling it new reactors.


Russia is against a military solution to the nuclear standoff. Military strikes have not been ruled out by the United States and Israel. That concerns Moscow, as unrest close to its borders could lead to a wave of terrorist acts, especially against pipelines and other petrochemical infrastructure in the region. And as a leading oil exporter, Russia is afraid that, as a consequence of a war on its doorstep, its own energy infrastructure could be targeted by radical Islamic elements from Central Asia or the North Caucasus.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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