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The Kremlin Wants A War in Iran

Russian Prime Minister Vladimr Putin -- soon to be banging his shoe?
Russian Prime Minister Vladimr Putin -- soon to be banging his shoe?
If his spokesman Dmitry Peskov is to be believed, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in his Valdai club discussions with foreign experts came out against both military action and against imposing further sanctions on Iran.

The paradox here is that it was the Kremlin's decision not to support the UN Security Council proposal to impose new sanctions that pushed Washington, Israel, the Persian Gulf, and Europe closer to consensus on a military solution to Iran's nuclear crisis. By blocking sanctions, Moscow is trying to deprive the international community of any leverage against Tehran.

In the short term, Moscow's approach is anything but absurd. Sanctions would inevitably precipitate a catastrophe in the form of serious economic problems within Iran and Russia losing its influence in Europe, the Caucasus, and most Persian Gulf Arab states.

Moscow could even find itself in a situation where its already limited options for asserting its importance would be reduced to following Nikita Khrushchev's lamentable example in banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations.

There has been quite enough discussion of how Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have shown the West through their position on Iran that it is up to anyone else you care to name to press the ill-fated "reset" button, but not them.

End To Speculation

There is no point in wasting time on analyzing the two top leaders' appeal to the nation that the Russian president came out with a few days ago, especially the part dealing with foreign policy and Russia's place in the world. That role under the flourishing tandem is perfectly clear, and it has nothing to do with the good of the country.

Nor is it worth paying any attention to Medvedev's "serious" question to Putin about who will be elected Russian president in 2012, given that nothing will change, whoever is elected.

It is also time to stop speculating about what Washington offered Moscow in return for its consent or silence during the UN Security Council vote on sanctions against Tehran.

Finally, it's time to lay to rest talk of how the Kremlin's approach to Iran is the litmus test of its entire foreign policy, an argument favored in particular by those experts and politicians who tend to attribute Moscow's decisions to its perception of having been humiliated by the West.

All of this is pointless because it looks as though the Kremlin really does want a war between the West and Iran. I can offer no other explanation for Moscow's behavior, especially taking into account the fact that statements that Russia is emerging from economic crisis have no grounding in reality.

On the other hand, a sharp rise in oil and gas prices as a result of such a war would enable Russia to emerge with full coffers from a crisis that has become a headache for the duo who personify "sovereign democracy" in Russia.

I would go so far as to say that such a political gambit would inevitably result in a Pyrrhic victory for Moscow, and not only because the hundreds of billions of dollars that would flow into the federal budget, the Stabilization Fund, the Reserve Fund, and the Fund for the "Greening of Russia" would certainly not be channeled into diversifying the economy. The past nine years have demonstrated graphically how the Kremlin tries to avoid such idiocies, restricting itself to words that are starkly at odds with its deeds.

War's Main Losers

Russia's foreign-policy influence, which is based on confrontation with the West, long-standing friendship with rogue states (thank you, former Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov), and on using energy and military force to pressure Europe and its own nearest neighbors, will come to an end very soon. Within five, or at most 10 years after the war with Iran (if indeed it takes place), there will be a regime change in Tehran as a result of the dire economic situation, and Russia will lose any influence on Iran.

Europe, by contrast, will be in a position to buy Iranian gas, and thus to talk to Russia on normal terms, and not from a position of weakness. Then fraternal Syria will fall off the Kremlin wall -- Syria, where Russian warships can moor freely as and when they please, and whose "sovereign democracy" Russian military instructors do such a wonderful job of defending from Israeli "aggression."

Recollections of partnership with the regime in Tehran and senseless dreams of a gas monopoly in Europe and influence on the post-Soviet Caucasus will become the last refuge of those who indulged in, and/or proclaimed, the imperial ambitions of an economically weak, but for that very reason extremely aggressive country. Those whose knowledge and capabilities differ from those of their early communist predecessors only in the degree of their greed and thievery.

It's difficult to believe that the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and the Near East, which have a genuine fear of Iran, would agree to cooperate with Moscow, which is doing all it can to provoke a conflict between the West and Tehran, especially as those states would be directly affected by Iran's response in that conflict.

No Hope For Change

The Kremlin's adaptation of Stalin's approach that led to the start of World War II -- "We'll maneuver them into a fight and then move in and pick up the pieces" -- will not bring the Kremlin any long-term dividends.

There will be more grandiose "national projects," fewer results, the money will run out or be diverted into various pockets (there have been many examples of that remarkable phenomenon), and no one will let anyone take anything. On the contrary, the Russian leadership duo will be left empty-handed.

In fact, all this may well happen even without a war in Iran, over more or less the same time period, and with the same miserable outcome for Russia. There is simply no chance either for a real improvement in relations between the present Russian leadership and the West, or for implementing the domestic political and economic reforms that Russia desperately needs.

In the absence of basic freedoms, a civil society, and economic expertise, a regime that relies only on dubious strength and on natural resources is doomed to suffer major domestic and foreign policy and financial defeats, even if it enjoys the support of a population that for centuries has refused to understand how it is being abused.

You may call me a dreamer, a Russophobe, or worse, but this is the reason why Russia will have to learn geopolitical literacy from its own mistakes, to the accompaniment of slightly adapted but still familiar Kremlin slogans, declarations of its own greatness and parallel threats to the West.

Where 's your shoe, Khrushchev? It's the last hope we have! And that is both sad and frightening, as no one can predict what the likely consequences of that exercise will be, either for the Russian Federation or for the rest of the world.

Dmitry Sidorov is a Moscow-based commentator. The views expressed in this commentary, which originally appeared in Russian on the website "Yezhednevny zhurnal," are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL