Tuesday, March 27, 2007
We -- and everybody else -- have been puzzling over the new grumpiness between Russia and Iran, including particularly the former country's new interest in containing the mullahs. Bret Stephens has a very interesting and speculative op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal that bears on the subject:
Critics of the Putin government were dismayed last year when the Bush administration agreed to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, apparently for nothing in return. The Bushehr volte face may be the delayed (and disguised) payoff. Alternatively, Russia may expect that its sudden pliancy on the Iranian file may yield dividends on the things it cares about most, particularly in what it considers its rightful sphere of influence. In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed that may have also served as a trial balloon, the Nixon Center's Dimitri Simes proposes two prospective giveaways: The breakaway Georgian "republics" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Mr. Putin has long regarded as rightfully Russian, and the looming question of Kosovo's independence, to which Russia is vehemently opposed.
Read the whole thing, and remember a point Stephens does not make: the Iranians know their history and have twisted it into a long list of grievances and resentments, some justified, some not. Iranians remember, at some basic level, that nobody has screwed them more over the years than the Russians.
The Iranians also remember that the Soviets occupied the northern half of their country from 1942 until late 1946. However, what appears to be driving the current chill is that the Russians realize that Iran materially supports the Chechens while it cannot pay the Russians a progress payment on the Bushehr reactor.