Sunday, February 21, 2010
MOSCOW - Agence France Presse
Senior Russian figures have recently signaled mounting frustration with Iran over its nuclear program, a departure from Moscow's usual practice of moderating the West's more hard-line approach to the Islamic republic. With the United States courting Moscow on the subject, Russia may join the West in agreeing sanctions
In half a decade of nuclear crisis, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has counted on the Russia of strongman Vladimir Putin to balance the hardline of the West with a more moderate stance.
But in the last weeks, senior Russian figures have signaled mounting frustration with Iran, saying that new sanctions could be realistic and even casting doubt on Tehran's insistence that its nuclear drive is peaceful.
With the United States courting Moscow on the subject, speculation has grown that the previously unthinkable might happen - Russia joining the West in agreeing sanctions that would threaten the Iranian economy.
Analysts caution however that while there has been an unprecedented shift in Russia's rhetoric on Iran, this does not equate to a wholesale change in policy that could see it back tough measures against the Iranian oil industry.
The position of Russia, which has the closest contacts with Iran of any major power, is crucial. It is a veto-bearing U.N. Security Council permanent member and also has an unmatched capacity to influence Tehran.
"In the last months it is true that a lot has changed in the behavior of Russia towards Iran," Rajab Safarov, director of the Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies in Moscow, told AFP. "But it is the emphasis and the tone that have shifted, while Russia's overall position on Iran has not changed," he added. "These statements are an attempt to put pressure on Iran to make it more open to negotiations."
Fear of regional tensions
Russia's chief worry in the nuclear crisis was preventing any dramatic escalation of regional tensions, given that its southern border lies just 150 kilometers from Iran, said Safarov.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Iran's arch enemy in the region, was in Moscow last week to seek Russian support for "biting" sanctions against Iran that would hit the oil industry, its foreign currency lifeblood.
But while President Dmitry Medvedev has since September 2009 repeatedly said that sanctions could not be ruled out, Russia appears to be some way from backing Western calls for tough economic punishment.
Safarov said: "In spite of its threatening statements, Russia would not support a Security Council resolution for new sanctions if there was one now."
Russia is in "a slightly different place" to a few months ago, said one Western diplomat, asking not to be named. "But there is still a huge process to go through."
With Russia often finding itself sidelined in post-Cold War diplomacy, the prolongation of the Iran standoff allows it to flex its muscles on a big issue where it unquestionably remains a player.
"Russia has an interest in the issue remaining in suspense," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow. "If Ahmadinejad gives in to the pressure, Russia will first get the credit but then its role would diminish. Russia will never vote for economic sanctions at the U.N. Security Council against Iran as it would lose its specific role."
With Russia's position crucial, one man has kept a careful public silence. The last major policy statement on Iran from Putin, who in 2007 became the first Kremlin chief to visit Tehran in the Islamic Republic's history, dates back to October.
But lower-ranking figures have made statements that would have been unimaginable just months before. Iran is "always changing its conditions" and Russia's fears were now "not so far away" from those of Europe and the United States, said parliament's foreign affairs committee chief Konstantin Kosachev last month.
A string of unpleasant surprises has given Russia good reason to revise its tone on Iran. Russia, which prides itself on having intelligence sources inside Iran far superior to those of the West, was taken aback by Tehran's revelation in September that it had built a new secret nuclear plant.
Along with France and the United States, it is also a key player in a deal brokered by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency that aimed to defuse the standoff by enriching Iranian uranium abroad.
Iran so far appears to have rejected the deal, a defiance that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has openly criticised as regrettable.
In the energy-sapping game of nerves Iran is playing against the international community, Russia still holds some powerful pieces that give it a leverage on Tehran that no-one else can boast.
Chief among these are five sophisticated S-300 air defense missile systems, which Russia agreed to sell to Iran for a reported 800 million dollars several years ago but has never delivered.
Russia is also building Iran's first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr, a much-delayed project dating back to the shah's era that is finally due to come online this year.
Russia Today: Russia has no obstacles for military cooperation with Iran – arms exports chief
21 February, 2010, 02:16
Russia’s military equipment is known worldwide, and state arms trading corporation Rosoboronexport is one of the biggest players on the market. RT spoke to its chief about current deals and future trading plans.
RT: Anatoly Isaikin, General Director of Rosoboronexport. Thank you very much for taking time for our program today. Mr. Isaykin, what countries does Russia trade with in the arms market?
Anatoly Isaikin: It’s easier to say what countries Russia doesn’t trade with. Last year we supplied weapons to 53 countries all across the globe.
RT: Russia used to lead in the international arms market. Then Russia’s place was taken by the Americans, but now Russia is gradually coming back. What place does Moscow rank?
AI: You’re right. The Soviet Union, but not Russia, was one of the biggest suppliers of military equipment and weapons. Since the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, significant changes took place, first of all, in its military-industrial complex. A significant part of the biggest enterprises remained in the territory of independent states.
Therefore, it’s obvious that it took Russia some time to restore its military and industrial potential. Back then we slashed the sales of weapons abroad.
Since the beginning of 2000 supplies of Russian military equipment and armament have been constantly growing. If we started with almost $3 billion – I mean in 2000 – then in 2009 we targeted $7.4 billion.
First of all, I am referring here to the figures for Rosoboronexport’s sales, not to all supplies. Consequently, we steadily come second after the United States in supplying arms abroad.
RT: And will you ever be the first?
AI: We are working on it, but it’s really hard.
RT: Mr. Isaikin, it’s always been said that the armament market goes not as much for economic as for political significance. Russia’s former partners, actually, as a rule, paid by friendship. How is Russia building its current relations, especially concerning going back to its old markets?
AI: I wouldn’t divide military-technical cooperation into two parts and estimate what prevails, politics or economy? In my view, both parts are essential. I believe the whole world bears in mind these two directions while establishing military and technical cooperation.
As for foreign policy, everything is also evident. After all, a country ordering weapons in Russia has confidence in Russia.
RT: Recently you said that there are no obstacles to delivering S-300 air defense missiles to Iran. Does it mean the talks with Saudi Arabia have failed? Or did it agree to supply weapons from Russia, despite its plans to arm Tehran? If it’s true, when do you expect to start dispatching air defense missiles?
AI: When I said that we don’t see obstacles to selling Iran any kind of weapons, including these missiles, first of all, I meant there is only one restriction here, which is the UN Council sanctions. When it applies such sanctions against any country, Russia strictly follows them. But no sanctions have been imposed on Iran.
RT: So far!
AI: Neither yesterday, nor today. That’s why we have every right to military cooperation with Iran in all directions. I’d like to emphasize: there are no formal restrictions. Personally, I’ve never been concerned about the supplies of defense weapons. And the S-300 is related to missile defense systems. It’s not an offensive armament. Each state has the right to defend its national borders. Therefore, I don’t see any threat or violation of the bipolarity in this region when supplying this type of arms.
RT: You’ve recently mentioned that negotiations with Iraq and Afghanistan are currently being held. What weapons are they interested in most of all? In what format will the deals be brokered – on market terms or as some kind of assistance?
AI: These two countries used to be major customers of Soviet arms. They still have a substantial arsenal of Soviet, not Russian, weapons. It’s natural that since 2003, when their military and political situation changed inside the countries and around, their armies have a growing demand for such weapons.
We keep receiving requests to supply armored vehicles, small arms, transport aircraft and helicopters. Our helicopters have showed themselves in the best way in Iraq and Afghanistan; they have proven to be the most reliable. Other equipment, which usually NATO has, as a rule, requires extremely thorough maintenance. It’s necessary to arrange special infrastructure for it, and this is a huge financial investment for these countries.
RT: The Russian government recently said it signed a contract with Libya for $1.3 billion. It prompts a question; isn’t it dangerous to sign contracts with such disturbing, in Western opinion, partners?
AI: Honestly, I don’t find Western countries, including the US, concerned about the delivery of arms to Libya. The United States excluded Libya from the list of countries which provide support for terrorism. The US opened an embassy in Tripoli and is negotiating the supply of military transport aircraft and strengthening coastal defenses. Great Britain is also involved in intensive talks there. France is taking an active part in negotiations on gas projects and weapons supplies. Experts say the contracts are worth around $10 billion, where arms supplies make up almost 50 percent.
So, as you see, these three countries, the leading producers of arms, in no way view Libya as a disturbing area – let alone Russia.
RT: Then how realistic is the scenario of supplying weapons to NATO countries? What type of equipment could be attractive to them?
AI: It already takes place. We’ve already been supplying arms to a number of NATO countries. We keep relations with “old members of NATO” and with Eastern Bloc countries which joined the alliance. We cooperate with France, Germany and Italy in the development of high-tech weaponry.
It’s a rather advanced field, therefore it requires more and more investment. Companies need to allocate more funds, more knowledge and more experience. Usually countries cooperate to develop these types of weapons. As for the Eastern Bloc countries, we assist them mostly in the maintenance of equipment they’ve had since Soviet times.
RT: Let’s now move away from NATO. Don’t you find it a bit strange to cooperate with India in the sphere of modern military technologies, for example, in designing the 5th generation of fighter jets? They also say that Russia is buying an aircraft carrier from France. Won’t such moves weaken Russia’s defense?
AI: Our cooperation in new projects, especially in developing arms of the 5th generation, is just a necessity. Countries are forced to join their efforts here. Yes, that’s right, we work together with India in developing a 5th generation jet fighter. But other countries also follow this way. Let’s take the F-22 Raptor jet, which is a 5th generation jet. It was designed with the use of new technological achievements of other countries, too. Of course, first of all, these are NATO countries. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with it. We are willing to cooperate with any country in this field, especially with our strategic allies – as India is, first of all.
RT: Earlier you said that in 2009 your company’s exports increased by 10%, which makes up $7.4 billion, or an additional $15 billion in contracts. But there is an opinion that the defense industry has been working at its limit for a long time. Is it true?
AI: It is true that defense industry factories have become busier with the growth of exports. In fact, it requires an increase in industrial capacity. Soon, our current capacity won’t meet the demand in orders – for example, missile defense systems. That’s true, we now have so many requests for S-400 systems that we won’t be able to satisfy them in coming years.
RT: But will Russia manage to remain on the market under such conditions?
AI: No doubt, we’ll remain. We speak about the increase of supplies and consequently the increase of exports. Here I see good prospects for further development of military-technical cooperation and the growth of supplies.
News.az: Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan hold trilateral talks
Mon 22 February 2010 | 08:42 GMT
Iran's Energy Minister Majid Namjou says seven new countries have joined the list of states that have requested to buy electricity from Iran.
Namjou declared that Russia, India, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, Syria and Oman are the new countries that have asked Iran for electricity.
He added that Iran has the capability to turn into a regional electricity hub.
"Iran exchanges electricity with most of its neighbors and many of them are interested in increasing their electricity exchange with Iran," Mehr news agency quoted Namjou as saying on Sunday.
"There are also trilateral talks with Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia underway, that aim to connect Iran's electricity network to Europe," he added.
Ukrainian News: Patriarch Kirill Of Moscow To Attend President-Elect Yanukovych's Inauguration On February 25
(08:38, Monday, February 22, 2010)
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Rus will attend president-elect Viktor Yanukovych's inauguration ceremony on February 25.
Archpriest Heorhii Kovalenko, who heads the information and education division of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, announced this to journalists.
"He is coming to Ukraine at the invitation of the newly elected president (Yanukovych)," Archpriest Kovalenko said.
According to him, the visit will last one day.
He did not say whether any service would be held on the day of Yanukovych's inauguration. According to him, the inauguration program is still being finalized.
Archpriest Kovalenko said that all the events that are presently planned for the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra in connection with the election of the new president will take place on Sunday.
In particular, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Volodymyr, held a thanksgiving service on Sunday in connection with the conclusion of the presidential election campaign, blessed Yanukovych ahead of his presidency, and presented him with a copy of the Gospel of Peresopnytskyi and other religious items.
As Ukrainian News earlier reported, Metropolitan Volodymyr of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has congratulated Yanukovych on his victory in the presidential elections.
The Central Electoral Commission declared Yanukovych as the winner of the presidential elections on February 14.
Patriarch Kirill paid a pastoral visit to Ukraine from July 27 to August 5, 2009.