Russia in the past has discouraged a push by the United States and Europe to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons. But Moscow has signaled a change in its stance toward Tehran. In recent days, officials including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov have indicated they would not block a Security Council referral, although they would likely still oppose sanctions. Vladimir Mukhin, a military analyst with the Russian newspaper “Nezavisimaya gazeta” and a professor at the country’s Academy of Military Sciences, spoke last week to Ivanov about Iran. Mukhin told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service correspondent Iskander Aliev about the interview.
I’m curious whether a military scenario will unfold after Iran continues its nuclear tests. [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Ivanov said he was concerned. Of course, he was echoing a statement by the Interior Ministry. However, the day before, he said he hoped that tensions between Iran and the West would not develop into armed conflict.
Why such a statement? Probably because the Russian chiefs of staff are not excluding the possibility of a military solution. That’s exactly what we’re thinking about right now. Why? Because it is clear that Iran is challenging the West, particularly the United States, but also, to some extent, Russia. Tehran rejected Russia’s proposal to enrich Iranian uranium on our soil, saying they wanted to do it on their own. We can speculate, with some certainty, on Iran’s desire to build an A-bomb and, if we have sufficient basis for suspicion, then military action against Tehran will be highly likely.
The Americans have been the first to prepare for this. In the press, we have already seen some analyses of how things could play out. Several times last year, [U.S. President George W. Bush] hinted that the United States might have to confront Iran in order to depose the harsh regime there and create an Iraq-style government. To what extent is this likely? I think the possibility certainly exists, and the longer Iran continues these nuclear tests, the higher the probability of it happening. Most likely, Russia and China will block the handing over of the so-called nuclear dossier [to the UN Security Council].
It is not profitable for Russia to impose sanctions on Iran, since we just recently signed an agreement to sell them nearly $1 billion worth of medium-range anti-aircraft weapons. These modern weapons are capable of hitting targets up to 25 kilometers away and will probably be used to defend various testing sites in Iran. Therefore, if some attempt is made to strike at the country and the deliveries from Russia are made quickly enough, we can expect a strong response. In other words, Iran will be able to defend itself. However, if ballistic missiles are used, then nuclear sites can be targeted effectively. We must not forget that Russia has its experts working on some of these sites, and is not interested in a military scenario, if only to protect them.
China has similar interests, because it buys oil from Iran. The Americans are a viable threat, since they have virtually surrounded Iran. First of all, they have planes stationed at air bases in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan, so that is one place they can strike from. At the same time, there is Iraq. There is also the possibility that in the case of an attack, the United States will use Azerbaijan. There has recently been such a tendency and communications outposts are already being developed on the border with Iran. These are troubling symptoms of a potential military conflict. This is very alarming. I am 100 percent sure that Russia will block any sanctions because it profits from trade with Iran and loses out from sanctions against the country. At the same time, Russia understands that the Iranian regime is taking certain wrong steps and this is where diplomacy must be put to work. Right now, it is difficult to say what success this diplomacy will have, because Iran is currently behaving with confidence and even defiance. These are my prognoses.
Yesterday, members of Russia’s Security Council…reported that although Russia’s proposal concerning Iran’s possible enriching of uranium on Russian soil was rejected, the next stage of talks will take place in Moscow in February and this topic will come up again. Do you think we can anticipate a change in the stance of either side, Iran or Russia?
You mean whether Iran will agree to enrich its uranium in Russia?
I wouldn’t exclude this possibility. Why? Because Russia has ways in which it can pressure Iran. First, there is the weapons supply. There haven’t been any supplies to Iran in a long time and the army is demanding new equipment. This is one argument. The other is that Iran and Russia have common interests around the Caspian Sea and if Iran wants to pursue close relations with Russia, this will be an area where influence can be gained by either side. Perhaps, Russia will offer more advanced weapons to Iran, including systems like the S-300, which we supplied to Syria. Iran, of course, is a different kind of country. It is rich, and if Russia wants to, it has ways of persuading Tehran.
What is the range of the S-300?
Up to 300 kilometers. The equipment I was talking about earlier is for protecting sites on the ground. The S-300, on the other hand, can intercept a ballistic missile. This is one of Russia’s strongest cards, since Iran’s priority right now is the protection of its territory. The country is basically surrounded by NATO bases and American bases, so sooner or later the conflict could develop into a military one.
Are there any other details that you, as a military specialist, would like to add that I haven’t asked you about yet?
I think that given the current situation, Russia will not take any serious steps or follow the West’s cue. As I already mentioned, Russia will probably defend its own interests while helping Iran solve this problem. The reasoning is military and geopolitical. Moscow really doesn’t like American activity in the South Caucasus…. Moscow will never go for a souring of relations with Iran, no matter what Iran does. Right now, Iran can act as an ally, because there is the current question of Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It has already been accepted as an observer [just like India] and in this particular case Russia will profit from creating some sort of alliance with Iran to resist the expansion of NATO and the United States in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. These are important goals for Moscow, and our understanding [of them] allows us to predict what [Moscow] will be doing in the future.
One last question. Next Monday [Jan. 16], the presidents of Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan plan to meet on the border between Iran and Afghanistan [ed. meeting has since been cancelled]. It has something to do with a highway that will connect the three countries. Iran has lately been investing more in the Tajik economy. Do you think that Russia will support this activity in the future? After all, it wants to have influence in the region.
I will say this. In Tajikistan, Iran is no competition for Russia. I am 100 percent sure of this and Moscow’s desire to build new factories to produce aluminum is key here. One single factory would double Tajikistan’s GDP. You know well that Tajikistan’s GDP is only $3 billion. Russia’s military budget is $20 billion. Tajikistan is a poor country with good resources, so Russia profits from the investment, even if it comes from Iran. This isn’t bad at all. It revives the country and Russia benefits from a stronger Tajikistan, so in this case Iran’s actions are only welcome. You may be aware that currently, with India’s help, Tajikistan is modernizing the airfield in Aigi and a new Russian air base will be stationed there. Again, there is no competition here, but simply geopolitical pragmatism. This is why I think Russia, Iran, and India’s goals in Tajikistan, as well as in Central Asia in general, should only be welcomed.
Russia Says Imposing Sanctions a Bad Way of Dealing with Iran