Russia Increasingly Critical of Iran's Nuclear Intentions

Jul 13, 2010
By Sarah Bulley
Russia has begun to take a stronger stance against Iran’s nuclear enrichment and urged a quick resolution to the debate over its atomic program. President Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend warned of Russia’s increasing wariness over the scope and intentions of continued uranium enrichment. However, despite Russia’s calls for a diplomatic resolution and vocal doubts about its true aims, Russia continues to support the construction of Iran’s new Bushehr nuclear energy plant. 
Although Russia signed on to a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran, government officials have always stressed their belief in the peaceful intentions of Iran’s program.
Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, announced this weekend that Iran had enriched and currently holds more than 20 kilograms of higher-enriched uranium. Iran is still most likely a year away from producing enough fuel on its own to power a research reactor, but they announced their intention to do so by September 2011.
In Moscow, Medvedev said yesterday
“Iran is nearing the possession of the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of a nuclear weapon...Teheran is far from behaving in the best way.”
President’s Medvedev’s remarks come as the most recent example of a fracturing relationship between Iran and Russia. Iran, which has counted on Russian political and economic support for awhile now, was angered by Russia’s vote in favor of a fourth round of UN sanctions and reneged offer to sell S-300 air defense missiles to Teheran. At a press conference in Madrid, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki responded to yesterday’s comments by saying
"These remarks are false…We are not sure of the motive behind these comments. We are seeking what is our right and will not agree to anything less."
Russia wants to maintain a fine balance with Iran. Supporting its peaceful nuclear development advances Russian economic interests and gains a useful regional ally. Allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons capabilities could negatively impact Moscow’s influence with Iran and future trade deals. Its current policy of attempting to strike this balance is beginning to wear, and Medvedev’s comments only do more to highlight Russia’ growing frustration with Iran. As James Nixey wrote:
Russia does not especially care about or for Iran. And certainly not the current radical leadership. More than once it has spurned Iran's offer of a 'strategic relationship'. It sees Iran as the west often sees Russia: potentially dangerous and unreliable; not least since Iran got close to, but ultimately rejected, a 2006 Kremlin offer to securely enrich or 'reprocess' Tehran's uranium in Russian territory, or, more recently, learnt of a previously undisclosed enrichment facility at Qom.
Despite the extensive ties at working level, there is little trust and much irritation. Russia is frequently, and by turns, angry and disillusioned with Iran.
The opening of the Bushehr plant has been delayed several times, but is scheduled to finally begin full operations this fall. The IAEA has been monitoring the facility, and will continue to do so after it opens. Financially and politically, Russia stands to gain from Bushehr. In addition to the construction of the facility, Russia is also contributing nuclear fuel for it the plant’s operations.
There are several explanations for Moscow’s increasing criticism of Iran. Warming relations with the U.S. and the potential ratification of New START have pushed Russia and the United States to come together in areas of common strategic interest. Applying more pressure on Iran may also prevent Russia from having to choose between fully supporting Teheran or the U.S. in the future. Criticizing Iran, while also outwardly disapproving of American unilateral sanctions keeps Russia in an awkward middle ground.
//Russavia under a Creative Commons License