Takeyh and Gvosdev are right on target when they write: "It should be abundantly clear that Moscow and Washington do not see eye-to-eye on the Iranian question. When [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice declared last Saturday that Iran had no need for even a civilian nuclear program, [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov countered that Iran had a full right to possess a nuclear fuel cycle."
Indeed, the only puzzle is why this should have ever been doubted. It was only "during her recent trip to Moscow that [the U.S. Secretary of State learned that] Russia would actively oppose any push to refer Iran's case to the [U.N. Security] Council." Russia's recent abstention in the IAEA Council was meaningless because it neither cost nor changed anything.
The Europeans have an excuse, albeit a poor one, for such naîvété: they (specifically, significant and influential sections of West European elite opinion) are still seeing the after-images of the 1848-49 revolutions when Russia suppressed an uprising in Hungary in behalf of the Habsburgs and also convinced Prussia not to accept a liberal constitution. These acts earned Russia the reputation, now disclaimed by candid Russian analysis itself, of being the "gendarme of Europe".
Unreflective opinion in Western Europe even believes that somehow Russia will save the Continent from the political effects of the steady demographic increase of its Islamic population. This irrational and emotional view is based upon the satisfaction of seeing Russia "rejoin" Europe after decades of Bolshevik/Communist rule. It ignores the cultural fact that the Bolshevik movement was firmly rooted in West European tradition and thought (here I mean not Marx but Rousseau: see for instance J.L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy), but those who hold that view also inhabit social strata sympathetic to Russia’s suppression of the liberal current in mid-19th century Europe. So it is all of a piece.
But why should the U.S. Secretary of State have hoped for Russian support on the Iranian nuclear question? Her worldview was not formed by the aforesaid European circles. But also, it is unlikely that her background as a Sovietologist comes into play here. Probably, her social background and career trajectory have simply not allowed her to develop the practical Machiavellianism characterizing such of her predecessors as James Baker and Henry Kissinger. Indeed, her public pronouncements occasionally evoke nostalgia amongst other great-grandchildren of the Enlightenment. Sadly, the times call for a Mazarin, not a Masaryk.
One more observation may be made. A politically weak Europe is not necessarily antithetical to Russia's interests. The report of sub rosa Russian assistance in transferring nuclear missile technology from North Korea to Iran, so as to extend the reach of the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to Europe, makes sense in this respect. Think "SS-20": the Soviet missile targeted on Western Europe, implanted in Eastern Europe in the late 1970s, which gave no real military advantage but was deployed for the purpose of political intimidation and weakening of political will at both the elite and mass levels. What does Russia lose if Europe is politically weak? It already has the epoch-making but little-noticed North-European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) project in its pocket.
Copyright © Robert M. Cutler unless otherwise noted.
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First published by UPI Outside View, 1 November 2005.