DEBKA-Net-Weekly 362 of Aug. 29 (Russia’s Second Front: Iran-Syria) focused attention on Moscow’s moves to build its ties with Tehran and Damascus as underpinning for a second front against the United States and the West and bulwark of the Caucasian arena.
Our disclosure that Moscow had decided to forge ahead with Iran’s Bushehr reactor after long years of foot-dragging was confirmed by the head of the Atomstroiexport company working on the facility, who told the ITAR-Tass news agency on Sept. 8:
“Between December 2008 and February 2009, various technical measures will be carried out… that will make the physical start-up process of the first Bushehr reactor irreversible,” he announced.
In September, Moscow and Iran began to approach a plan (first disclosed in DEBKA-Net-Weekly 363 of Sept. 5) for Russian bases in Iranian territory to challenge America’s domination of the Persian Gulf and foothold in the Caspian region.
Initial speculation focused on venues in the Gulf Island of Qeshm and Iranian Azerbaijan.
A senior Russian official put the altered climate in a nutshell when he commented this week:
“Everything has changed since the war in Georgia. What seemed impossible before is more than possible now, when our friends become our enemies and our enemies our friends. What are American ships doing off our coast? Do you see Russian warships off the coast of America?”
The official concluded by saying: “Russia will respond. A number of possibilities are being considered, including hitting America where it hurts most – Iran.”
The Georgian attack violated the Putin doctrine
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that some of the sentiments heard in circles close to the Kremlin are even more acrimonious. Many have a big chip on their shoulders about the way the United States came to be perceived after the fall of the Soviet Union as the sole reigning super-power in a unipolar world.
The Medvedev-Putin external policy doctrine is dominated by two iron principles:
1. The concept Vladimir Putin as president laid down of “the near abroad,” which places Russia’s close environment out of bounds for American and Western interference and their bid to dominate their next-door neighbors, Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine and the Caucasian.
2. Russia’s compulsion to co-exist amicably with the Muslim world for the sake of stable domestic relations among its many peoples and the Muslim communities.
Both these principles were shot down in the Georgia crisis and so Moscow hit back by redrawing the Caucasian frontiers, claiming to ape Washington’s Kosovo precedent in the European Balkans.
More than any other casus belli, Moscow was provoked most into marching into South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia, by Mikhail Saakashvili‘s invasion of Tskhinvali.
Seen from Moscow, Russia had no choice but to show its Moslems and every national minority at home and the “near abroad” that they can count on Russian protection – even up to poking America in the eye.
The Ossetian people have a tradition of good relations with Russia, first during the days of the Russian empire and later the Soviet Union. They sided with the Kremlin when Bolshevik forces occupied Georgia in the early 1920s. In the ensuing carve-up, the South Ossetian Autonomous Region was created in Georgia and North Ossetia became part of Russia.
Stretching the “near abroad” to encompass Iran
In the aftermath of the Georgia crisis, the Kremlin’s first instinct, according to DEBKA-Net–Weekly‘s Moscow sources, was to geographically extend the “near abroad” well beyond Russia’s nearest neighbors, to form a safety belt around them. This belt is designed to encompass America’s sworn foe, Iran, along with Syria and their proxies and allies.
Venezuela is included – less because of its situation on the American continent and more because Hugo Chavez comes with the Iranian package, which Moscow sees no reason to break up.
This strategy has not been finally settled by Russia’s highest policy-making body, its National Security Council, our sources report. But since most of its members are in favor, Russian officials are preparing the terrain for the moment it is decided.
Hence the decision to finish work on Iran’s Bushehr reactor; the intelligence cooperation pact signed with Iran last week; the decision to install missiles and naval units in Syrian ports, as well as nuclear-capable strategic bombers at a Venezuelan airfield (as first revealed by debkafile on Sept. 9). They have since landed.
Russia is hinting to the U.S. that, despite surrounding Russia with U.S. military bases, America is just as vulnerable to attack as any other country.
In November, the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great arrives in Venezuela at the head of a flotilla of 6-8 warships, two of them nuclear-powered.
Russia‘s longstanding vision to be dominant power for Muslim world
Enfolding Tehran in its sphere of influence opens a broad vista for Russia’s rulers.
Our Moscow sources explain that if Iran opts for backing a Russian footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan on a scale which outstrips its support for the American military, US positions in Baghdad and Kabul will be shaken to the core and possibly fold.
Russian-Iranian collaboration in the Muslim world would make an old vision come true for Moscow, which has long aspired to be the leading world power for Muslim nations, displacing the United States.
Our Washington sources report that the wheels going around in Russian minds in this direction prompted the announcement by President George W. Bush Tuesday, Sept. 9, that the present scale of US troops in Iraq would not be reduced and only 8,000 would return home in early 2009. He said that while the security situation in Iraq had improved immeasurably, it was still reversible.
What he did not say out loud was that if the Russian-Iranian schemes get off the ground, Iraq might find itself pulled in to Cold War 2 before long – and not necessarily on the side of the West.