Putin Aims to Trump Bush’s Middle East Moves

The foreign ministry in Moscow announced Monday, Dec. 17, the delivery of the first fuel shipment to power the Iranian nuclear reactor Russia is building at Bushehr. The announcement coincided with an international conference in Paris for 60 countries to consider the Palestinians’ application for $5.6 bn in aid. debkafile‘s Moscow sources report this was a deliberate ploy to steal the thunder of an event built up as the sequel of the US-promoted Middle East conference in Annapolis last month.
Our Moscow sources report President Vladimir Putin has adopted the strategy of matching – or topping – every US or Western move concerning the Middle East. He also plans, they reveal, to land in Syria in grand style on New Year’s Eve, a week before US president George W. Bush begins his Middle East tour.
Putin will be flown by Russian helicopter to inspect the Russian flotilla of six warships headed by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, which is due by then to dock in Syria’s friendly Mediterranean Tartous port.
The Russian company building the Bushehr reactor Atomstroiexport said Monday 180 fuel rods would be sent to Bushehr in the next two months, enriched to the same 3.7 percent grade as the product of the Iranian Natanz complex.
The company stresses it is below weapons grade and the containers were inspected and sealed by the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Tehran was said to have provided written assurances that the fuel would not be used anywhere outside Bushehr. The Russian foreign ministry urged Iran to stop enriching uranium, but a senior Iranian official said this would not happen under any circumstances.
Putin, who plans to be filmed worldwide with Russian sailors on the deck of the aircraft carrier, backed by 47 Russian warplanes and 10 helicopters, will be challenging the US Sixth Fleet, the Israeli Navy and UNIFIL’s marine arm for control of the eastern Mediterranean. He will also be marking the end of his eight-year presidency in March with a flourish.
Putin will take the opportunity to pay visits to select Middle East rulers. His bureau is still working on arrangements. The Russian president is reported to be interested in another official visit to Israel, his second, to outdo Bush who is due in Jerusalem and Ramallah on Jan. 9-10 for his first trip to Israel as US president.
Moscow is determined to host the next Israel-Palestinian peace conference next March or April, by which time Putin may have changed hats from president to super prime minister. That session is planned to embrace also Syria’s claim to the Golan held by Israel since 1967, as well as two enclaves, the Shebaa Farms and half of divided Ghajar village, to which Lebanon now lays belated claim.
Putin personally interceded with Syrian president Bashar Assad for a delegate to the Annapolis conference and expects to be paid in kind.
The rivalry between Bush’s Washington and Putin’s Moscow for influence in the Middle East is clearly more intense and sharp-edged than generally appreciated. He has made it clear that his government means to be co-opted to US-led moves in the Middle East, or else Moscow will put spokes in Washington’s wheels.
debkafile‘s military sources were first out On Dec. 5 with the exclusive disclosure of Moscow’s counter-action to Washington’s decision to whitewash Iran’s nuclear program from 2003, by authorizing completion of the Bushehr reactor and deploying a war fleet in the Mediterranean. Read the original item HERE

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