Putin made it known that Russia would oppose any U.S. military action against Iran. More significant, he reached an agreement with the leaders of Caspian states that none of them would permit their soil to be used by the United States for such an attack. Putin was quoted as saying, "We should not even think of using force in this region. We need to agree that using the territory of one Caspian Sea [state] in the event of aggression against another is impossible."
The immediate target as mentioned by us was Azerbaijan, where there has been discussion of U.S. use of airfields in the event of war against Iran. Putin made it clear -- and there did not seem to be much dissent -- that general cooperation by former Soviet Union nations with the United States in a war on Iran would place them on a collision course with Russia. This was not Russia's position in Afghanistan or Iraq. Moscow is taking a different tack on Iran.
Two themes have now merged. Until this point, the Russians have used U.S. preoccupation with Iraq to increase their influence in the former Soviet Union. Now Putin has upped the ante, making it clear that Russia can dictate the parameters of acceptable behavior to at least the countries around the Caspian and, by logical extension, in the former Soviet Union. It is certainly important that Putin does not want a U.S. attack against Iran. It is extremely important that Putin is now openly limiting the freedom of action of former Soviet republics. He is making Iran a test case.Putin has a range of levers to use against these countries, the most important being the fact that their ministries, police and military forces are deeply penetrated by the Russian FSB, the successor to the KGB. Put differently, as Soviet states, these countries' regimes were intimately tied to the KGB. Following independence, that relationship did not atrophy. Apart from economic and military options, the Russians know what is happening in these countries, and can influence their affairs with relative ease. In Teheran Putin read the riot act to Azerbaijan, and we expect that it heard it.
The Russians did not give Teheran everything it wanted. No apparent breakthrough was reached on the question of Russian support for construction of an Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr. Putin refused to give guarantees on resumption of fuel deliveries, but did agree to discuss it with the Iranians during a planned visit by Ahmadinejad to Moscow. But Putin did give two important things: he said Russia would oppose military intervention and that it would work to prevent any Caspian state from participating in such intervention.This of course leaves the question of what Russia might do. Its ability to protect Iran is negligible. However, during the Cold War the Soviets practiced linkage. During the Cuban missile crisis, the United States expected Russia to do nothing in Cuba, but to act against Berlin in response to an invasion. Russia will not do anything directly to help Iran. But Moscow is interested in countries in the former Soviet Union, where Russia wants to redefine status and the United States has few military options. Georgia in the Caucasus and the Baltic countries are of interest to the United States and very vulnerable to Russian response.
Putin did two things at the meeting. First, he opposed a U.S. attack against Iran. He then implicitly claimed primacy within the former Soviet Union, imposing solidarity among Caspian states. It is the second thing that is striking. In doing this, Putin implicitly broadened the range of responses possible if the United States does attack Iran. But what finally came out and indeed fits our describtion of what we uttered as a suspicion that "could given the United States nightmares," is when Asia Times Online reported Oct. 26, citing a "high-level diplomatic source in Tehran." That Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have agreed that Russia will view a preemptive strike against Iran by the United States as an attack on Russia.
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