Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post has a new column which digs up a number of quotes from American officials over the years which illustrate how often they have been willing to assume a certain level of rational thinking going on inside the Kremlin with regard to Iran. Just because it is technically in Russia’s interests to not have Iran possessing nuclear weapons, doesn’t mean that they will act on those interests.
It might be, for example, that Russia understands the value of keeping Iran nuclear-free, but values even more the fruits of its commercial and military trade with Iran.
It might be that Russia believes that the stalemate status quo is pretty close to ideal. Iran can be delayed in its progress toward nuclear status but also prevented from normalizing relations with the United States and the West. And as long as those relations are sour — and the West won’t buy Iran’s natural gas — Russia’s leverage over Europe, as Europe’s main gas supplier, is enhanced.
Perhaps Russian leaders are not united on the question. In the early1990s, Clinton administration officials persuaded themselves thatPresident Boris Yeltsin accepted their Iran logic but that he wasn’tstrong enough to control his nuclear-industrial complex, which wantedtrade with Iran. Today the theory is different: Russian PresidentDmitry Medvedev may see the light but is stymied by Prime MinisterVladimir Putin.
Or maybe the Russians accept the logic — but don’t believe Iran canbe dissuaded. In that case, their smartest policy would be to hold outhope to the Obama administration that they can be brought along –thereby continuing to win U.S. concessions on missile defense, armscontrol and other matters for as long as possible — while seeking aprivileged position in Tehran for the day when Iran goes nuclear.
Their smartest policy, in other words, would look very much like the one we’re seeing today.