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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Russia and Iran; friends for the moment, or for the distance?

Links: A. Russia making military commitment in Syria.
           B. Russia warming up to Iran is part of broader Russian policy.

Earlier this year, when it became apparent that Barack Obama had ordered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to successfully conclude a nuclear treaty with Iran, regardless of the sacrifices, there was some confusion regarding the continued closeness of Iran with Russia, who had previously been Iran's closest ally with regards to the nuclear issue.  Was it possible that this new treaty, which was actually signed by a few European nations as well, would usher in a new era of cooperation between the United States and Iran, to the detriment of Russia?  It certainly wasn't likely, and in fact, within days after the agreement was announced, Iranian religious leaders were up to their tired old bullshit of parading around mass quantities of zealots, screaming, "death to America!".  No doubt Vladimir Putin didn't even flinch when news of the treaty reached Moscow.  He had been working on his own strategy in the region, and in this plan, Iran is a major player.

Once Putin realized that U.S. President Barack Obama was content to ride out his last term in office, allowing the nuclear treaty to be his "legacy moment in foreign policy", he crafted a new direction for Russian foreign policy, which if successful, would displace the United States as the world's only superpower, to be replaced by Russia.  The advent of ISIS and Russia's long-time close relationship with de-facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave Putin the perfect opportunity to implement his plan.  Russia would intervene militarily in Syria, and using Assad as a proxy, defeat ISIS.  But Putin had no intention of allowing ISIS to retreat into the wastelands of western Iraq, to lick its wounds and reload.  Russia's new best friend, Iran, would be the next opponent for ISIS to confront.  In fact, Putin's plan was to confront ISIS in Syria with Assad/Russian support, and simultaneously push ISIS westward from Iraq, using the Iranian Shi'a militias, Iraqi Army, and Iranian military units, if necessary.  Russia has established itself militarily in Syria, as planned, but Iran has to negotiate its way through a bit of a diplomatic triangle in Iraq.  The United States continues to have instructors imbedded with the Iraqi Army, and the U.S.-led air coalition remains active, conducting daily sorties against ISIS targets.  Iran's plan is to support the Iraq Army and its Iranian-backed militia partners in action separate from Iraqi Army efforts which involve the U.S., with the intention that one effort will be successful and the other will fail.  Currently, the U.S.-supported effort by the Iraqi Army to retake Ramadi appears to be failing, while the recent militia-supported operation to retake Baiji and its important oil refinery was successful.  This occurred on the heels of an announcement of the creation of a joint communication cell in Baghdad between the Russians, Iraqis, and Iranians.  Putin is convinced that once Iraqi military initiatives directly supported by U.S. personnel fail, that the Obama Administration will throw in the towel.  He is betting on the likelihood that a failure in Ramadi will lead to demonstrations against U.S. involvement in Iraq.  Once the U.S. is out, then Iran will "lead" the Iraqi Army, militias, and Iranian Special Forces/Republican Guard units in confrontation with ISIS.

Putin's long-term strategy is that by defeating ISIS, Russia and Iran will increase their influence, Russia internationally, and Iran regionally.  Russia's entry into the Syrian conflict has removed the eyes of the west from Ukraine, allowing Putin to forget that within the last two years, Russia has annexed Crimea, an integral part of the Republic of Ukraine, and that Russian military equipment was responsible for the tragic destruction of a civilian airliner and the murder of hundreds of innocent people.  Putin has changed the topic of international conversation.  Today, the world is focused on Syria and the continuing refugee problem, which provides Putin with more justification for military involvement in Syria.  Someone has to do something; if not Russia, then who?  The United States is totally reactive in its international relations, and the current administration does not have the stomach for military casualties.  Certainly a united military force created by the various EU nations would handle ISIS without much difficulty, but that option has never even been suggested.  Russia had an invitation to take on ISIS, and Iran will have the opportunity to become the dominant nation in the Persian Gulf region because of its impending involvement in the destruction of ISIS.

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