In protest of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to sidle closer to Russia instead of the EU, thousands of people poured onto Kiev’s streets and in February were left counting their dead after snipers were let loose on the masses. Now the calls of protestors in the Ukraine’s capital could echo in the negotiation room in Vienna where the Iran nuclear debacle is hoping to be settled, and may also help shape a stronger geo-political alliance between Tehran, Moscow and Beijing.
Nuclear experts have arrived in New York ahead of the political-level talks, the next round of which are scheduled to begin in Vienna on 13th May. The P5+1 group, which includes the US, UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany, are hoping to reach a long term nuclear deal with Iran by the 20th July this year- the start of a draft agreement will reportedly be written during the May discussions. While the next round of talks on scaling back Tehran’s nuclear capacity are set to commence, events in Eastern Europe may have an effect on their outcome.
The new interim leadership in place in Ukraine after Yanukovych disappeared, attained recognition from both the US and the EU, while Russia declared it illegitimate, the result of a coup d’état, and accused the US and EU of funding the protests. In the midst of the chaos, pro-Kremlin armed men and Russian forces took control of Crimea, a semi- autonomous region recognized as part of Ukraine, before a referendum was held and Putin signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into Russia.
Russia’s moves and international reactions to them have strained relations between Moscow and the West the most in post-Cold War history. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had chosen the “route of isolation”, and announced the suspension of joint naval exercises with Russia and of export licenses for military items to Moscow. The US vice-president, Joe Biden, said the world had rejected Russia’s “flawed logic” and threatened further sanctions.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov commented on the Iran talks in March, “We wouldn’t like to use these [Iran nuclear] talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes” between Russia and the West, according to the Interfax news agency. “But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well.” However, Iran’s geographical location- its northern tip is roughly just 160 km from southernmost Russia- means Putin doesn’t want to leave Iran’s nuclear capacity unchecked either. Teamed with Russia’s concerns that a failure to produce a deal will lead to US military intervention or Israeli involvement, it may be enough to ensure Russia and the rest of the P5+1 try to forget the Crimea during the Iran talks.
Differing opinions on the Syrian War and the Iran talks haves shown a clear divide between Russia and the West, but the Crimea crisis has bought these differing opinions to a boiling point. While in the above two instances, Russia and the West were able to work together; Russia offering a diplomatic solution to US plans to strike Syria, and Putin role in the nuclear talks, the Crimea issue has re-divided the political terrain along old fault lines. These three recent events may have widened the gap between Moscow and the West, however they have bought together Iran, China and Russia.
Moscow is probably feeling the pinch of the sanctions and as the world powers are desperate to put an end to the Iranian nuclear threat, Russia may use the talks as leverage. At a time when 35 years of sanctions are pushing Iran to the negotiation table, Russia, long opposed to the concept of sanctions as either punishment or a form of political pressure and China, who has remained Iran’s trading partner despite sanctions, have a couple of big trade deals in the pipelines with Tehran.
Russia is negotiating an $8 billion to $10 billion energy deal with Iran, while in March of this year, Russia agreed to build Iran two additional nuclear power plants, according to Iran’s state-run Press TV. Putin will be unlikely to quell the White House’s concerns over a $20 billion barter arrangement exchanging Russian goods for Iranian oil reported prior to the Ukrainian crisis, since the reactions to Russian moves in the Crimea.
On Monday, according to Chinese State media, China and Iran agreed to deepen defense ties. In March the two countries struck a three-year $3.39 billion deal to produce liquefied natural gas in Iran’s mammoth South Pars natural gas field.
The trio has already battled against the West in regards to the situation in Syria. Putin stood by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad even as the news that he was likely to be behind a deadly chemical gas attack surfaced, while the Islamic Republic has funded the Syrian regime and sent fighters in the form of the Iranian backed military group Hezbollah. Together China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed three Western backed United Nations Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s government and threatening it with sanctions.
Putin’s proposal regarding the declaration and disposal of Assad’s chemical arsenal prevented US led “limited” military strikes and potentially saved Syrian from becoming the next Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Russian President. Putin and Hu congratulated each other on their successful co-operation averting the strikes during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali last year. Russia and China advocated tirelessly for Iran’s inclusion in the Geneva II talks- political talks aimed at bringing an end to the Syrian conflict.
The standoff over Crimea, the Iranian nuclear talks and the Syrian war are part of a larger picture in which Moscow, Tehran and Beijing may see themselves as fighting Western imperialism and US dominance, in a cold war-esque battle for influence.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.