Russia's Mediterranean Payback for US Caspian-Caucasian Ventures

Moscow has noted president Brarack Obama's increasing aggressiveness toward Iran's nuclear program and regime since Russia moved to forge closer ties with Tehran. This move produced in turn Washington's pledge of a defense umbrella for its Middle East allies against Iranian nuclear weapons (as reported in the previous article), and was noticed as such by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and his prime minister Vladimir Putin.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources in Moscow report the Russian leaders were not surprised by this move since they expected Obama to complement other steps taken in recent weeks which in their view are winding their way toward a single result: Deeper tensions between Washington and Moscow and the incipient symptoms of another cold war.

Moscow points at three such US steps as boding ill:

1. The signing this week of the Nabucco Pipeline project, an inter-governmental transit agreement between Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria for bypassing and competing with the Russian pipeline route to Europe. Since Russia's rival South Stream project has secured the support of Italy, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, the Balkans has become a new flashpoint not only for pipelines routes to Europe, but also between the old rivals, the US and Russia.

2. A statement by President Obama's special envoy on Eurasian energy, Richard Morningstar, on Monday, July 20, that “Washington is committed to finding natural gas supplies for the Nabucco pipeline project, a major alternative to Russian domination of the European market.”

This statement told Moscow that Obama would persevere in the policy of American expansion in the Caspian and Central Asia. For the Kremlin, it means that Washington is bent on squeezing Russia out of these energy-rich regions.

(The US interest in the Nabucco project was explored in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 394 of May 1).

3. The arrival of US vice president Joe Biden this week in Ukraine and Georgia, both of which challenge Russian supremacy in the Caucasus and the Black Sea regions.


US observers in Georgia will spell full-blown cold war


On Tuesday, July 21, Biden offered reassurances to Kiev that Washington's efforts to jumpstart strained relations with Moscow would not come at the expense of Kiev's drive to join NATO and integrate with the West.

Biden also made public comments supporting the Ukraine's admittance to NATO as a full member, something Moscow views as a “red line”.

On Wednesday and Thursday, July 22-23, Moscow waited to hear what exactly Biden would tell Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili when asked for advanced weaponry and US observers to monitor a cease-fire along the boundaries of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both US affirmatives would cross another two Russian red lines.

Moscow accordingly responded with two steps of its own:

One: Monday, July 21, the Russian navy announced its maintenance facility at the Syrian port of Tartus would be upgraded into a fully operational base servicing Russian warships operating on four seas: The Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

A senior Russian navy officer, who spoke off the record, said in Moscow that the Russian anchorage at Tartus has been expanded to hold 12 Russian warships concurrently.

This conversion will make Syria and its Assad regime a valuable Russian strategic asset in the Middle East and safe from being pushed by Washington to cut off its bonds with Iran.

Two: Two days later, on Wednesday, July 23, the state-run RIA-Novosti and ITAR-Tass quoted Sergei Kiriyenko, the country's nuclear agency chief, as announcing that the Russian-built nuclear power reactor at Bushehr would be finished by the end of the year after all.

This project has been switched on and off over the years very much in tune with the vagaries of Russian-US and Russian-Iranian relations.

But now, with this step, Russian leaders have reneged on all their promises to Washington not to let Iran's first nuclear reactor go online until the 5P+1 Group (the UN Security Council Permanent members plus Germany) manage to successfully engage Tehran for an accord on its disputed nuclear program.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Moscow sources report that the Kremlin is fully intent on expanding its nuclear ties with Tehran at a pace to be calibrated according to the outcome of the discussions Biden holds over the weekend with Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko

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