IRAN: Russia urged to hedge bet on Ahmadinejad
An influential Russian newspaper recently published an article urging Moscow to "adjust" its policy toward Iran so as not to catch too much flak if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes down.
According to an Aug. 6 piece published by the privately owned Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it's time to give the divisive president the heave-ho.
"It appears that recent events in Iran, when the opponents of Ahmadinejad shouted slogans of 'Death to Russia,' indicate that Moscow's defense of Ahmadinejad's government has not been met with approval among a considerable portion of the Iranian population," the editorial said.
"It appears that the idea that Iran is a regional power which Russia could use as a trump card in relations with the West has turned out to be mistaken," the editorial says.
"As a matter of fact, it has turned out that Iran is using Russia to polarize the Group of Six," the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, over Iran's nuclear program.
The editorial pointed out that Russians are being singled out by the West and Iranians themselves as the primary backers of Ahmadinejad, possibly to Moscow's disadvantage.
And while Ahmadinejad has promised great changes for his country in the coming four years, Russian analysts say they expect the president won't shift his behavior in order to bolster his domestic or international standing.
"The popularity of Ahmadinejad is low," Aleksey Arbatov, director of the Center for International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the newspaper. "His policies have brought the country into a deadlock. He will not change his line, especially since there are powerful forces behind him -- the Islamic Revolutionary Guards."
Arbatov suggests that Ahmadinejad might be pushed aside by more moderate forces, while retaining the presidency as a sort of "bad cop."
The editorial urges Moscow to "correct" its own policies to take into account Iran's new reality.
That doesn't mean breaking off ties with Iran, which remains an "important partner," the editorial said. Iranian-Russian trade has jumped dramatically since 2000.
"It is known that a number of large Russian enterprises, that are fulfilling contracts with Iran, are directly interested in the development of ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran," the editorial said.
But, the editorial added, "banking on personal relations with Ahmadinejad appears to be counterproductive."
It urges "the development of contacts" with other political players.
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin review an honor guard during an official welcoming ceremony for Putin, as he arrived to attend a summit in Tehran, Iran, in 2007. Credit: Vahid Salemi / Associated Press