21.04.2014 Author: Alexander Orlov

US is losing its positions in the Middle East due to the Ukrainian Crisis

45353By taking an extremely hostile position against Russia in the Ukrainian crisis Washington has managed to hasten the reorientation of Moscow towards the East, especially the Middle one. And Iran is among the states that can expect the future development of bilateral relations with Russia, since it is one of the most influential countries in the region. The stability of the Persian Gulf along with the whole Middle East largely depends on Iran, on top of all Iran is indispensable for the US strategic interests. Russian media has recently reported that Moscow and Tehran had signed a $ 20 billion worth deal. Russia agreed to buy Iranian oil, and Iran in return would buy Russian goods. The preparation of this Oil-for-Goods deal began in December of the last year. In essence the oil would be sold at a price of a few percent lower than the market for a wide range of Russian products — from agriculture to engineering ones, additionally Russia will participate in Iranian industrial projects. Thus Iran would obtain a guaranteed sale of its oil, and Russia — an access to the Iranian market . The contract is mutually beneficial and does not affect the interests of any other country.

Washington’s response to this Russian- Iranian rapprochement has been voiced by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman : “We are very crystal clear that anything like such an agreement between Russia and Iran might have potential sanctionable action and would likely create tremendous rifts within the P5+1 which would make coming to a comprehensive agreement all the more difficult if not impossible.” Along the way, Washington has accused Russia of violating the sanctions regime against Iran. Which is, of course, a blatant nonsense and the Russian Foreign Ministry was quick to underline that fact. Especially if one is to take in consideration the fact that this contract is but another step into the strengthening partnership between Moscow and Tehran and the expansion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation of the two countries. The current bilateral turnover is a little more than 2.5 billion dollars a year, which is completely inadequate since it is not reflecting the potential of the two economies. As for the policy of the Russian Federation and Iran, the two share a common position over a variety of problems – from the Syrian conflict to the foreign presence in Afghanistan.

At present the United States is trying to limit the growth of Tehran’s influence in the regional and international stages. Which does not meet the interests of the Russian Federation, since the latter is starting to increasingly support Iran, Syria and Iraq, the states of the so-called “Shiite arc”, through promoting its positions in region, gradually pushing the US out of it. And the greater Washington’s involvement in the Ukrainian events, the less influence it would have in the Middle East, the region that can boast 2/3 of world’s oil reserves and significant gas ones.

Cooperation with Tehran is advantageous for Moscow economically, especially in the energy and military domains, a major focus of this partnership is in the nuclear field. The gas industry has a strategic component to it, after all, Russia and Iran could build a gas pipeline to India, which is the fastest growing consumer of gas in the world, thus limiting the supply of gas to Europe. And then let the EU call the US shale gas bluff as a potential substitute for Russian gas.

But at present the major concern of Washington is the possible Russian-Iranian cooperation in the nuclear field. That is why reports about the signed Oil-for-Goods agreement caused great concern in the United States, which has always been bothered by the Russian position in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme . Given the rising tensions in Russian-American relations because of Russia’s reunification with Crimea with, the above mentioned agreement will further aggravate the confrontation between Moscow and Washington. So almost immediately Washington went on with the string of threats to impose new sanctions against Moscow and Tehran due to the bilateral agreement. One could have the impression that the Western leaders have forgotten all other words in their foreign policy other than “sanctions”. Washington is clearly weakened, since it fails to face the fact that sanctions no longer work, especially when it comes to large states.

One should recall when sanctions against Iran were first introduced, the US feared that the implementation of these would be jeopardised by the economic ties Iran had with other countries. And it was back in 1980, when the Islamic Revolution won in the country, and since then, for decades the US had been adding more restrictions to them. But a number of states was not able to stop using Iranian oil, and thus they virtually ignored the US threats. However, during the last three years the United States have made every effort to persuade its potential competitors in the global and regional stage to recognize these sanctions, sometimes by blackmailing other states. Russia has also agreed to partially accede to these sanctions. But now it has began revisioning its policy, given the hostility the US and EU has been demonstrating to Moscow over Ukraine. The credibility of the US and its policy is gone, so on can say that Washington has brought it on itself. Sanctions have finally become nothing but an American tool to push other countries around in the eyes of the Russian policy makers, and they are imposed due to the loss of the US military and political domination in many regions.

The White House clearly ignores the fact that Iran’s relations with Russia are based on a legal basis and are quickly developing into a strategic partnership, despite by the attempts made by the West and especially the United States try to make this look as a temporary interaction .

Regarding the above-mentioned agreement between Iran and Russia, one can state that the US is not simply afraid of some country being able to bypass sanctions and thus achieve a sharp decline in external pressure on Iran, it’s terrified by it. Washington policy makers are really panicking over the Oil-for-Goods agreement since it creates favorable conditions for lifting the sanctions against Iran.

The West was interested in putting as much pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme as it possibly can. Now both the US and EU are concerned that Russia would be more in favour of Iran on the negotiations over the nuclear programme of Iran in order to put more pressure on the West over the peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. For that Washington policy makers got only themselves to blame, since it would be silly to assume that they could put pressure on Moscow over one international issue, and expect it to show them support them in others, especially when it comes to the strategic interests of Russia. The post-Soviet space and the Middle East — are two zones of high priority for Moscow today. Therefore it is quite natural that in case of an Oil-for-Goods agreement between Russia and Iran the United States sanctions would automatically lose all power, and the effect of anti-Iranian policies pursued by the US policy makers would gradually come to naught.

Apparently, the White House authorities have forgotten that in its foreign and domestic policy other countries’ leaders pursue the national interests of their countries. But Washington think tanks have assumed that other states should act accordingly with the American interests. Therefore, the US leaders should not be surprised if they are to lose positions in the areas of the world where there the United States used to be dominant because of its stupid standing in Ukraine.

Alexander Orlov, political scientist, expert in Oriental Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.