Moscow: As tensions ratchet up in the Gulf, the Kremlin is signalling that it will use all its diplomatic influence to oppose war and, according to a leading Moscow newspaper, has ordered the military to prepare for any possible spillover from a conflict between Iran and the US into the sensitive post-Soviet Caucasus region.
Russia will block any further sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, a Foreign Ministry official said yesterday, because it believes rising tensions could trigger a conflict that would destabilise the wider region. Last week Russian deputy prime minister and former ambassador to Nato Dmitry Rogozin warned that any Western attack on Iran would constitute "a direct threat to [Russian] national security".
The independent Moscow daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported on Monday that this year's annual military exercises in Russia's south, Kavkaz 2012, will be much larger than usual and organised around the premise of a war that begins with an attack on Iran but spreads to neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan, and draws Russia into a regional maelstrom.
The newspaper said the war games, which are usually confined to Russian territory, might this year include manoeuvres in the breakaway Georgian statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and perhaps also in Russian-allied Armenia.
"We believe that sanctions relative to Iran have lost their usefulness," Gennady Gatilov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, told a Moscow press conference yesterday. "We will oppose any new resolution [on UN sanctions against Iran]....
"Russia would consider any use of force against the territory of Iran unacceptable. That would make the situation even more critical.... Unfortunately, many [Western] government leaders are not restraining themselves and are speaking openly about a military strike against Iran," Gatilov added.
A harsh sanctions regime, signed into law by US President Barack Obama two weeks ago, would target Iran's ability to earn cash through oil exports by penalising Western companies who clear payments through Iran's central bank. The European Union could enact its own sanctions against Iranian oil exports as early as next week.
Russian experts say that Moscow opposes Iran's alleged drive for atomic weapons, but may fear the consequences of a military strike aimed at curbing the country's nuclear programme more.
"War in Iran could create a new situation in the wider Caucasus and the Caspian Basin, which would a very serious challenge to Russia," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy journal. "There is a high degree of uncertainty about what would happen in neighbouring regions. How would it affect the situation around Nagorno Karabakh, for instance?"
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a savage war in the 1990s over the tiny Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, which ended with Armenia annexing the territory and some surrounding regions.
— Christian Science Monitor