With Iran`s announcement that it has enriched uranium to 20 per cent, Russia`s policy towards the Islamic state is clearly changing. Officials have suggested Russia could support a new round of crippling UN sanctions against the Ahmadinejad regime, and now there is a new line of confrontation over its delay in delivering a batch of anti-aircraft missiles.
Despite increasing pressure on Russia from Iran, and a state visit from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to get Russia to accept further sanctions, a final decision remains to be made by the country`s top leadership, analysts said. Capture the Season`s Best Memories Get a free Sony Cybershot 10MP camera and Sony 9" Digital Picture Frame! ElectronicsSource.us.com LATEST NEWS Russia may send weapons to Afghanistan, but no troops 18:55 19/02/2010
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Russian officials came the closest yet last week to acceding to new sanctions against Iran after the announcement of the enrichment programme.
"Everything has its limits, including patience," Russia`s Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, told RIA Novosti. He said that other countries suspicions about Iran`s supposedly peaceful nuclear program were "well-founded," and called for more cooperation with the IAEA, the international nuclear monitoring agency.
Russia was also clearly biding its time in delaying the delivery of S-300 missiles, which would offer substantial protection for Iran in case of a military strike. "There is a signed contract which we must implement, but deliveries have not started yet," Vladimir Nazarov, deputy secretary of the Security Council, was quoted by news agencies as saying, adding that that the deal was not restricted by any international sanctions.
Russia, like China, has vocally opposed further sanctions against Iran in the past. In September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin practically ruled out any further sanctions, his statements coinciding with a secret visit by Netanyahu, who had apparently clinched a delay on the S-300 delivery.
"I think Russia has developed a healthy concern about the Iranian nuclear programme - this is a recent change," said Ariel Cohen, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "The Iranians were lying to senior Russian officials. There was a question of the quality of intelligence that was reaching them."
The "grand bargain," Cohen said, is whether Russia will simply "pocket concessions ... or will there be a quid pro quo?"
Such a trade-off could involve cancelling US plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe and flexibility on the renewal of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty, Cohen said.
But that remains to be seen.
"Patrushev`s statement [indicates] some rethinking is being made, but whether Putin [has] made the final decision I don`t know," Cohen said.
Russia`s hesitancy to fully back new sanctions, then, was coming from somewhere else.
"The only thing Russia fears more than a nuclear weapon in Iran is a stronger presence of NATO and the US in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan," said Alexander Rahr, Russia and Eurasia programme director at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "The feeling of being encircled by NATO in the west is something that, naturally, Russia`s top elite feel is directed against them. This is the psychology. So they are very reluctant to support America and its policy against Iran, even though they agree 90 percent that there`s no other way but to introduce sanctions against Iran."