The Connections between Russia’s Threats to Ukraine and the Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

January 14, 2022 | Anna Borshchevskaya
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As Moscow is building up its forces near the Ukrainian border, its representatives are involved in talks in Vienna over the possible restoration of the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program—to which Russia is a party. Anna Borshchevskaya explores the link between these two aspects of Vladimir Putin’s policy:

Although Moscow has always preferred a non-nuclear-armed Iran, it does not necessarily share Western goals, methods, or redlines on this issue. . . . Russia has also used its support for sanctions as leverage to extract concessions from the West.

Even when they occur at the same time, Putin’s policy decisions on Ukraine and Iran are better viewed as manifestations of a general anti-Western strategy than as directly connected actions. Hence, Washington should be cautious about how much store it puts in Moscow’s assurances on either front unless they are accompanied by concrete indications of deeper policy shifts.

Years of [nuclear] talks elevated Moscow’s standing as a global power without whom major diplomatic decisions could not be made, bolstering its position as a counterweight to the West . . . . Meanwhile, Russian commercial and defense transactions with Iran appear to have grown since the U.S. withdrawal from the [agreement. According to the Tehran Times, total bilateral trade increased from $1.74 billion in 2018 to $2 billion in 2019. . . . Moreover, Moscow is reportedly poised to sell 32 Su-35 fighter jets to Iran, which would significantly bolster the country’s air force.

Western policymakers may wish to believe that Russia can be helpful on Iran even if it makes harmful moves against Ukraine, but they need to see the bigger picture—Putin’s anti-Western posture has never been limited to Europe.

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