Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What Putin hopes to gain from Iran

TIME - Monday's news that Iran has postponed Moscow talks, scheduled to start Thursday, on having its uranium enriched in Russia, and has instead resumed its own enrichment activities, was hardly stunning — except, perhaps, to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin had expected a cash windfall from Iran for the Russia-supplied nuclear capacity; the laurels of a global power-broker for defusing the Iranian nuclear crisis; and the praise of his increasingly nostalgic citizens for restoring the lost empire's glory.

Instead, he looks hapless before the specter of a nuclear-armed militant clerical regime that looms beneath the veil of a peaceful nuclear energy project. Putin's massive supplies of conventional weapons to Iran, including air defense missiles and armor, have strengthened that specter — much to Russia's own peril.

...From 1990 through 1996, Russia supplied over $5 billion worth arms to Iran. Then, Russia heeded a U.S. request to stop military supplies, but resumed them in 2000, just as Putin became president. Last October, Moscow and Tehran signed a deal on military supplies worth $300 million annually. Russia will also supply $700 million worth of surface-to-air missiles. The Iranian arms market now promises Russia some $10 billion over next several years.

These tantalizing riches risk falling into the same chasm, however, as the unpaid billions owed to Russia by Saddam Hussein's regime, and other Moscow-backed rogue regimes. Russia risks ending up unpaid, friendless — and facing a volatile nuclear neighbor, connected to terrorist groups and armed with Russian weapons, right on her unstable southern border. Some return to glory, indeed.

Read the article in full.