Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently stated that there is no proof that Iran is building nuclear weapons. The Russian Federation has held this position for a long time. However, Lavrov apparently has not heard what his boss, president Dmitry Medvedev said—and did—on this matter.
Moscow voted in favor of all the four rounds of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on Iran aimed at pressuring the country to stop its nuclear weapons program. Russia also joined the ban on supplying arms and military aircraft to Iran. Significantly, the Kremlin reversed its position on selling the S-300 state-of-the-art air defense system to Tehran. However, Russia’s position is somewhat schizophrenic because the country is supposedly committed to advancing military cooperation with the Islamic Republic.
Russia also constructed and fueled Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr last month and guaranteed a 10-year supply of the uranium needed to fuel to the reactor. Despite Russian guarantees, having a uranium reactor gives Iran a pretext to expand its uranium enrichment program.
There are compelling arguments suggesting that Iran is well on its way to developing nuclear weapons. According to testimony from Denis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, in March 2009, Iran can achieve the capability to produce nuclear weapon as early as 2013 and is continuously expanding its ballistic missile force. This information was reinforced in the Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that was released earlier this year.
In addition, this view is widely shared with U.S. allies who are implementing their own regional sanction regimes against Iran. For example, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, recently stated that it is “wholly unacceptable” for Tehran to seek nuclear weapons capability. Private companies in Europe are moving from the Iranian market in an effort to support the sanctions regime. However, most experts agree that sanctions alone are not enough to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
Lavrov’s inconsistency may suggest that there is a difference of opinion at the apex of the Russian power structure. Last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not acknowledge evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. However, Putin repeatedly stated that Iran needs to come clean and clarify to Russia, the U.S., Europe, and Israel, regarding the true nature of their nuclear program.
Despite the efforts of the Obama Administration, Russia has worked hard to water-down UNSC sanctions regime in the past. Yet, President Medvedev sees Iran as close to acquiring the capability to make nuclear weapons and expressed support for the sanctions. In the end, he issued a decree banning weapons sales to Tehran, including the S-300.
Russia did not implement this ban out of the goodness of its heart. If Moscow were convinced that the Iranians do not deliver nuclear weakons, it would never agree to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in arms sales.
It is also possible that there are differences between Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev regarding the Iranian policy, and the Foreign Minister took Putin’s side.
Yet, the President of Russia has spoken. It would help if his Foreign Minister took the heed.