Russian president Vladiimir Putin has countered the Bush administration’s planned missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic with more than frowns and threats to point his missiles at Europe. Neither did he wait to meet with US president at the G8 summit of industrialized nations in Germany at the end of this week.
The week before, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports, Moscow released the long-withheld nuclear fuel for Iran’s atomic reactor in Bushehr. Special nuclear containers were loaded on a train in the yard of the manufacturers JSC Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant. They contained two types of nuclear fuel, WER-440 and WER-1000.
The special train then headed out of Novosibirsk to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, 2,000 km away.
There, the tanks await loading aboard a Russian ship destined for Bandar Anzili, the Iranian military port on the Caspian shore. According to our Iranian sources, a fleet of Iranian trucks is waiting at the other end outside Bandar Anzili port to transport the nuclear fuel and drive it slowly and carefully to Bushehr, a distance of 850km.
Barring the unexpected, the cargo will have reached Bushehr early next week, June 10 or 11.
One such circumstance could be financial. Perhaps the largest snag marring recent Moscow-Tehran relations is delays in remittances from the Islamic Republic.
A few days before the nuclear fuel left the Siberian factory, the sum of $327m was sent out by Tehran for a fresh delivery of Russian missiles to Syria (See separate article on Syria’s war preparations in this issue.)
Iran pledged another $438 m for additional arms deals. Putin ordered the cargo held at the port of Astrakhan until a third payment from Tehran was delivered. So far this has not been confirmed.
Putin buys six months to bring Washington round
Putin never promised Bush that Russia would deny Iran the nuclear fuel for its Bushehr reactor in perpetuity, as some administration circles in Washington have claimed in the last two years. He did assure Washington, mainly in conversations with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that he would postpone delivery as long as he could, despite Moscow’s contractual commitments to Tehran.
The Bush administration’s plan to deploy missiles in Poland and radar stations in the Czech Republic made Putin mad enough to set this assurance aside.
His move hits the US where it hurts most: The UN Security Council meets at the end of June to approve harsher sanctions against Iran for continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of previous resolutions. The Russian fuel delivery will substantially dilute the effect of such penalties, especially when the Islamic Republic is about to clinch a deal for the acquisition of long-range ballistic missiles from North Korea.
(See HOT POINTS below)
Putin developed a complex and well thought out retaliation strategy for America’s missile deployment in East Europe.
1. A second consignment of nuclear fuel has gone out to India from the same Russian factory which supplies Bushehr. This was a swipe by Putin at US-Indian nuclear cooperation while it is also under attack from another direction, US Congress. It was also meant to place Moscow at dead center of the Russian-American-Israeli contest over domination of the Indian arms market. This contest also pertains to the developing military ties between New Delhi and Tehran, which Moscow is working hard to turn to its benefit. Moscow has not yet said the last word on this contest.
2. Monday, June 4, the Russian president sent the director of the Russian Nuclear Energy Commission, Sergei Kirienko, to the Russian Interfax news agency to confirm that Russia is ready to deliver nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant six months before its physical launch.
Kirienko said: “I have just visited the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant; fuel for Iran and India is ready. It will be delivered six months before the physical launch.”
This statement has granted the Russian president six months’ leeway for jumping whichever way he finds expedient.
It is time enough for Moscow and Washington to reach terms on the Iran issue as well as the East Europe missile deployments. If the Bush administration digs its heels in on the missile defense shield, Russian engineers employed at Bushehr will be told to go ahead and activate the reactor even before December 2007. But if Washington relents, Russian personnel can always be told to go back to dragging their feet, as Moscow did on the nuclear fuel.