Despite the naïve exuberance of President Obama’s Russia advisers, there is little likelihood that Russia will join the West in imposing crippling sanctions against Iran.
Since 2003, Russia has consistently frustrated or watered down all attempts at sanctions. Russian diplomats often privately support the Western position and Russia has officially condemned Iranian enrichment. But Russia has never cooperated tangibly in stemming Iran’s drive to develop nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, President Medvedev’s seeming endorsement of sanctions is unlikely to indicate a change.
Words are cheap for the Kremlin and the Iranians are aware of this. The Russians, having endorsed sanctions, will now find hundreds of reasons why any specific sanctions package is unfair. They will say the timing is unreasonable, cultural sensitivities are not being respected, that there need to be exceptions, and diplomacy must still be given a chance. By the time they are done confusing the issue and making genuine sanctions impossible, the West will have forgotten that they ever said that they were in favor of them. The purpose of Medvedev’s remarks was to impress on the Western audience that once Western governments stop behaving in an aggressive manner, i.e. in a manner which limits the scope for Russian aggression, Russian cooperation is assured. This is nonsense, of course. The West is not aggressive, Russia does seek to dominate its neighbors and if Russia did not have enemies, it would need to invent them. But it’s a way of assuring that the tragic-comedy called “Reset” has a long way to run.
The reason is that support for Iran is Russia’s most important trump card in foreign relations and there is little likelihood that they will give it up.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His latest book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State.