Stung by Bush’s About-Turn on Rapprochement

It is not the first time that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken offense from the Bush White House. This time, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Moscow sources report, he hit the ceiling over what he called American duplicity.


When foreign minister Sergei Lavrov returned last week from the American-staged Middle East conference in Maryland, Putin gave him a rough dressing-down for taking US affronts on the chin. The American hosts did not give him the floor for an address, Russia was not granted either voice or a respected presence at the event and, in the end,


Moscow’s offer to host Annapolis 2 in Moscow next month was brushed aside by Washington and left up in the air.


Putin’s tirade centered on his two personal phone calls he put in at the request of the White House to persuade Bashar Assad to send a Syrian official to the conference. What did we get in return? he asked.


This grievance is only one of several others which are piling up.


The Kremlin complains that George W. Bush has gone back on an offer to let Russian personnel be stationed permanently at the US missile sites planned for Eastern Europe and give them a say in the decision on when Iranian missiles pose a threat to the continent.


The offer was made, Russian sources comment caustically, when the Bush administration was hell-bent on a showdown with Iran over its nuclear aspirations and stood in need of Moscow’s support. Now that Bush has performed a U-turn on Tehran ready for his exit from the White House, the offer has been revised to almost nothing.


The Russian president is also upset over events in Georgia. He complains that Washington failed to honor its understandings about handling Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili. He regards Saakashvili’s declaration of snap election in January is a gross attempt to suppress the pro-Moscow opposition. He accuses the Georgian president’s American advisers of giving him this counsel.


To vent his anger, Putin has struck fast and hard.


 


Putin resumes work at Bushehr, posts fleet to Mediterranean


 


Tuesday, Dec. 4, just hours after Washington released its National Intelligence Estimate to mark Iran’s purported suspension of its nuclear weapon program in 2003, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, dep. foreign minister Saeed Jalili was on a flight to Moscow.


Led straight to Putin’s office, the Iranian official was presented with his government’s second victory in 24 hours: Moscow’s decision to end its protracted bickering bouts with Tehran over timetables and payments, which has held up the completion of the nuclear reactor at Bushehr in southern Iran. Moscow would now make a serious effort to finish its construction by the end of 2008. Fuel would be transferred in the coming days.


This decision put to rest the quarrel which erupted between Russian and Iranian governments during Putin’s Tehran visit on Oct. 16 over the Bushehr issue and which DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported in full.


When Jalili was airborne, Putin ordered the chairman of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) Sergei Kiriyenko to call officials in Washington and West Europe with an explanation of the Russian decision.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly has obtained a paraphrased version of that explanation.


It is better for a stable and responsible government like that of Russia to finish the reactor and supply it with fuel than for Tehran to ask China to finish the job.


It is also better for Moscow to fill Iran’s orders for a string of nuclear reactors than Beijing. Furthermore, Kiriyenko explained, Moscow has an agreement with Iran for the spent fuel rods to be returned and not re-used for weapons production. Russian has the means to hold Iran to this bargain. Before the rods are fit for use in weapons production, Iran would have to build a separation installation which is too big to hide. As soon as Iran takes the first steps to building one, Moscow will immediately cut off fuel supplies and halt its operations at the Bushehr reactor.


Putin had more ammunition in his belt.


Next day, he summoned the Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov to his office and, together, they decided to post six Russian warships in the Mediterranean and a fleet in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. The Middle East fleet was to be headed by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the guided missile cruiser Moskva.


This will be the first time that a Russian carrier, with 47 warplanes and 10 helicopters on its decks, is posted for a prolonged stay in the eastern Mediterranean. This is a potential challenge to the domination by the US Sixth Fleet, NATO and Israeli navies of these waters.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report the Syrian military port of Tartous will provide services. (See HOT POINTS below.)

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