An Inconvenient Nuke

  

The Russian government has a reputation for friendliness toward Iran, just as it has a reputation for rough suppression of Russians who disagree with their government. So this pronouncement Thursday from Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based PIR—Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, is a bit of a shocker:

 

Iran is actively working on a missile-development program. I won’t say the Iranians will be able to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles in the near future, but they will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe,” he said.

 

He didn’t say Iran is working to build nuclear weapons. But he made it clear that Iran could one day get them, and it would become much more bellicose once it did.

 

Iran, which is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the UN Security Council, will be practically ‘untouchable’ after acquiring nuclear-power status, and will be able to expand its support of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah,” he said.

 

Dvorkin played lead roles in drafting the SALT II, START I, and START II treaties. He is also a former employee of the State Central Naval Testing Site, where he took part in Soviet nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines’ underwater test launches. In sum, he is someone whom people listen to when the subject is development of deadly weapons.

 

So his words came at an inconvenient time for Medvedev, given the upstart nuclear facility in Bushehr, Iran, that is supposed to be fully operational by March 2010 thanks to the Russian money funding it and the Russian nuclear fuel that will power it.

 

All while Medvedev is also trying to get the US on board for a new nuclear pact that would replace START-1 following the latter’s expiration in 2009. That pact is supposed to limit US and Russian deployment of nuclear weapons. What does it gain the United States to see Russia reduce its nuclear stockpiles if Russia is aiding and abetting the construction and deployment of new nukes by its anti-U.S. ally Iran?

 

And make no mistake about it, Iran and Russia are allies. Just ask Heidar Al-Balouji,

research fellow at the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), Tehran:

 

It is no accident that the Russian foreign policy concept views Iran as one of its main 

partners in the Moslem world,” he wrote.

 

Why? Because Iran is a very helpful partner for placating Islamic extremist movements,

who are a greater threat to Russia than is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Tehran

proved to be a key negotiator already in imbroglios in Tajikistan, Karabakh, and 

Chechnya.

 

Partnership with Iran is an economic boon, also, according to fellow PIR—Center

scholar Vladimir Orlov. He noted that Bushehr is only one of seven plants

that Russia has contracted to help build and supply, for $1 billion each$7 billion

altogether.

 

Russia would like to see Iran as an important strategic and economic partner-technologically, financially, in cooperation in the energy sphere” he wrote.

 

As for me, I have no doubt that economic interests are at play here. The Russian defense industry is certainly hawking for more business with Iran: Iran was the third-largest buyer of Russian military hardware in 2003.

 

But the security interests are very real, too. Why? Afghanistan. Iran’s state agencies have been heavily engaged the last few years with reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, expanding Afghan-Iran border security, and broadcasting anti-American, pro-Iranian propaganda from Iranian radio stations onto the Afghan airwaves. The fruit of their labor is that Iran is becoming a considerable influence in Afghan politics, as it already is in Iraqi and Lebanese politics.

 

This may make Iran very important, considering that the Taliban has made no secret over the years of its leaders’ aspirations to seize control of not only Afghanistan, but the Central Asian CIS as well, and maybe even parts of Russia. The 2001 US invasion obviously derailed them for a while, but they’ve been showing a lot of resilience in the last few years. Could they make a complete comeback? Not likely, but that possibility has surely crossed Russian officials’ minds, or at least it should have. If–or when?–the US/NATO quest to democratize Afghanistan totally implodes, Russia may count on a well-armed and well-connected Iran to help regain control and curb resurgent Taliban ambitions of world domination.

 

Nevertheless, the world would be safer if Iran’s arms didn’t include nuclear weaponry. I think so. And Orlov thinks so:

 

We have quite a potentially big agenda. But this agenda is clearly conditional – and the condition is: Iran develops its nuclear program only in peaceful ways and means.”

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