ANYTHING RATHER THAN WAR

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Europe and Russia should join forces to oppose military action in Iran

President Putin’s talks in Madrid primarily focused on international affairs, especially Iran’s nuclear program. The other hot topic was the Mideast situation and how to create a mechanism for establishing cooperation between countries with Western and Muslim cultures.


President Vladimir Putin’s recent state visit to Spain was never expected to be at all suspenseful. While in Madrid, he signed several agreements intended to encourage trade and economic cooperation. Neither are there any particular problems at the political level. Spain, like Russia, has been hard-hit by terrorism – so Russia and Spain are in the same boat these days. The problem is that the boat is rocking a lot. The Middle East is on the brink of another war. Russia and Europe, including Spain, could be caught in the crossfire.

Casus belli

When Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and President Putin held a press conference after their talks, most of the questions put to them weren’t about bilateral relations. Everyone was interested in Iran’s nuclear program, work on which is slowly but surely bringing closer the prospect of American strikes on Iran, and the related issue of the Hamas election win in Palestine. Putin’s statement on the latter topic caused a sensation. Firstly, he said that Moscow does not consider Hamas – which has been engaged in an armed struggle against Israel for many years – to be a terrorist organization. Secondly, he invited the leaders of Hamas to visit Moscow for talks on the prospects of Mideast conflict regulation.

In response, Prime Minister Zapatero stunned the audience by saying that Russia should play the decisive role in both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and resolving the Iran conflict. Until now, no Western leader has questioned the assumption that the United States plays first fiddle in the affairs of the world’s most volatile region. Zapatero’s words are an open challenge to Washington, with a fairly transparent hint to the effect that American policy in the Middle East is not good for Europe.

After the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) decided to give the UN Security Council a detailed report on the nuclear program being pursued by Iran, which is suspected of seeking to possess nuclear weapons, talk in the United States moved beyond sanctions against Tehran, to the possibility of a military soluion to the conflict. The likelihood of this outcome stems directly from the US foreign policy doctrine of the “Greater Middle East.” It aims to lead the region toward Western standards of democracy, and that entails bringing down any regimes that don’t meet those standards. Above all, this applies to Iran; Washington has had a grudge against it ever since the Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran.

In early March, the IAEA may once again express concern about Iran’s nuclear program; and then the handover of Iran’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council would become inevitable. As a result, Iran would probably be accused of violating the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime, meaning that international sanctions would be imposed against it. Most importantly, such a decision by the United Nations would provide a pretext for American strikes at Iran. Some analysts are even saying that the US might use tactical nuclear weapons (against nuclear research laboratories in underground bunkers).

On the whole, only Russia is capable of averting such developments.

An Iranian delegation is scheduled to come to Moscow on February 16 to discuss Russia’s proposal to establish a center in Russia for the purpose of enriching uranium for the needs of Iran’s energy sector. Moreover, a Federal Nuclear Energy Agency (RosAtom) delegation headed by RosAtom chief Sergei Kirienko will soon visit Iran. If the fundamentalist regime in Tehran rejects these proposals, war would become practically inevitable – and neither Russia nor Europe want that to happen.

Peacemakers

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that talks in Madrid primarily focused on international affairs, especially Iran’s nuclear program and the possible consequences of Tehran’s refusal to comply with IAEA recommendations. The other hot topic was the Mideast situation and how to create a mechanism for establishing cooperation between countries with Western and Muslim cultures in the context of the war on international terrorism.

Members of the Russian delegation didn’t conceal their concern about how these two issues are being addressed. “It’s a bad situation in both cases,” said a senior official from the Putin administration. What’s more, he said that a number of issues are connected: the Iran problem, the Hamas election win in the Palestinian Authority, the upswing in radical moods throughout the Arab world following a series of Prophet Muhammad cartoons in some Western publications. Each of these problems threatens to escalate in a very serious way.

The Kremlin is particularly concerned about the fact that the opposing sides – Tehran and Washington – seem to be heading for a confrontation deliberately. Moscow has a fair idea of why the United States is doing so. Things haven’t worked out for the Americans in Afghanistan, not to mention Iraq. Apparently, the Americans need a solution to their problems at home and abroad, and they’ve found that solution in a confrontation with Iran. But the Kremlin can’t figure out why Tehran is escalating the situation, “creating one problem after another, thus reducing the US president’s room for maneuver.” The Kremlin administration doesn’t rule out the possibility that the Americans already have a plan for war with Iran.

This would be a severe blow to Russia’s geopolitical interests. The inevitable rise in oil prices under those circumstances can hardly be regarded as sufficient compensation. Moscow, currently chairing the G8, has laid claim to a key role in ensuring global energy security. Such a role for Russia becomes impossible if Moscow is left out of decision-making on whether to bomb one of the world’s leading oil suppliers.

When interviewed by Spanish journalists shortly before his visit to Madrid, President Putin said that although what is “practically a dead-end situation” has taken shape in the Middle East, he is not pessimistic about it.

By the way, we bear some of the historical responsibility for this situation. The USSR provided active support to Palestinian organizations like Hamas. And none other than Russia helped Iran to develop its nuclear program – building the nuclear power plant at Bushehr regardless of Washington’s protests.

We are now responsible for those we once tamed. But we aren’t the only ones responsible. The European Union also risks finding itself in a fairly ticklish position. Up until the Hamas election win, the EU was the chief sponsor of the Palestinian Authority. The Europeans are also the chief economic partners of Iran. In the event of a war between the United States and Iran, Europe risks more than losing face (due to the implication that it has supported terrorists and their sponsors, striving to possess nuclear weapons); it will sustain concrete economic and geopolitical damage.

Thus, there is every reason for Russia to form an anti-war coalition with a number of EU member states. The previous such coalition, based on opposition to the US war against Iraq, wasn’t too successful; it raised a fuss, then fell apart. Back then, however, the countries involved – Russia, Germany, France, and Spain (after the Madrid bombings) – were fighting for peace after the event, when the American invation of Iraq was already under way. Maybe things will work out better this time. The Spanish prime minister has prepared a peace program in advance – it’s called the “Alliance of Civilizations.” President Putin expressed support for this mechanism of establishing cooperation between Christians and Muslims. What else can we do? Anything is better than war.

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