Saturday, March 20, 2010

Putin and Lavrov claim Bushehr will start this summer

It is being said that Russia is angry with the United States, possibly because the US has not fully scrapped missile defense plans. I've never thought the US could or would scrap its missile defense plans because an unanswerable global first strike threat would be too valuable for the United States to pass up if it is feasible.

The United States knows that it will lose cooperation with Russia on Iran if it pursues those plans, but there are some strategic objectives for the United States that are bigger than Israel and its nuclear posture is one of them.

But for whatever reason, Russia is speaking far more aggressively in favor of completing Bushehr than it ever has:
Yet only recently it seemed all differences on Iran were resolved. Experts believe the sudden falling-out was provoked by a recent revival of U.S. plans to deploy anti-missiles in Europe.

On Thursday, when the future of the Bushehr plant came up for discussion, Lavrov said with certainty that "the project will be finished" and "the steps to meet all technological requirements are entering the decisive stage."

The minister was not expected to give a different answer: a few hours earlier, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had told a meeting with nuclear experts in Volgodonsk that the first generating unit in Bushehr would go on stream this summer. But Lavrov's words clearly upset Clinton and she rushed to say that the U.S. was opposed to the commissioning of the Bushehr plant, considering it premature.
I do not expect to see Bushehr start until Iran is in formal negotiations with the United States, and therefore, until the United States has committed to allow a degree of enrichment that Iran accepts.

If Russia believes the United States is attempting to end its mutually assured destruction equilibrium, it will respond with a broader counter than just Iran. On the other hand, with two occupations in the Middle East, it is not clear that the US is capable of prioritizing its association with Israel. It is possible that the Russian strategy for punishing the US, should US/Russian relations fail, will involve maneuvering the US into a painful, destructive and pointless war in the Middle East.

There is a structural problem between the United States and Russia. The two countries are at an equilibrium today that is acceptable to Russia. Russia and the US each could destroy the other with a first strike, but not without being themselves destroyed in retaliation. At some point in the future, the US will be able to thwart an attempted Russia first strike, or strike Russia with the understanding that Russia does not have an option to retaliate. That would shift way conflicts between the US and Russia can escalate, giving the US an advantage even given the expectation that the weapons will never be used.

Interestingly, the US would be gaining with respect to Russia the virtual nuclear superiority that Israel will be losing in its region as Iran's nuclear capability becomes more established. Earlier this year, the US pulled back from its plans to site missile defenses in former Warsaw Bloc countries, but by now Russia must see that the long term objective still exists to be fulfilled in other ways.

This is a bigger problem than Bushehr. Bushehr will be solved by cash payments from the US to Russia or something comparable, though the price may be higher than usual. Bushehr didn't open under Bush, when Bush openly was pushing for expansion of US missile defense. But the rivalry between the US and Russia looks as if it may flare with Russia looking to balance US capabilities, perhaps by reasserting influence over the former Western bloc countries, perhaps by elevating its relationships with Cuba and Venezuela.

Russia's opposition is the most active, but China also does not want to see the US with a global unilateral first strike capability. The worst case for the US is that just maybe Russia and/or China will try to embroil the US in another war in the Middle East, this one broad and expensive enough that the US will no longer be able to afford or be able to focus to move to the next generation of missile technology. The prospect of losing MAD is that serious to Russia, unless Russia is convinced the danger can be delayed and acted upon later.


Lysander said...

I am not a technical expert by any means but...

The US could potentially create a missile shield, but I doubt it will ever reach a situation where it need not fear a retaliatory strike. Quite simply, the technology to shoot down missiles will always be much more expensive and cumbersome than missiles designed to evade the shield. Russia will always be able to produce maneuverable missiles, random mid-course corrections, multiple war heads, cruise missiles, long rang bombers that fire missiles, etc. It could also mass produce missiles and rely on volume.

All those options are expensive for Russia but much cheaper than the shield will be for the US. In short, the US will always seriously risk, if not guarantee, a cataclysmic second strike if it attacks Russia, no matter what shield it produces. It is really expensive folly for the US to pursue a missile shield.

However, I do agree that the US dreams of gaining unassailable power and is hell bent on getting there. Russia should understand that. Their easiest, cheapest and most effective counter-move is to empower Iran.

Sell every weapon Iran wishes to buy without restriction. Complete Bushehr and offer to help build more reactors. Ask Iran to join the SCO.

All these things will leverage Russian influence in the Persian Gulf, frighten US allies in Saudi Arabia and the small gulf states, and force the US to expend more and more resources to ensure Israeli dominance. And the beauty of it is that Russia would actually get paid to do it, not sink resources into it. And if the Russians don't do it, then eventually the Chinese will.

It's so obvious, that I assume I am missing something.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I think that many people are focusing exclusively on specific Russian overtures to the Middle East, primarily economic concerns. I don't know if you are aware, but Moscow Today recently launched Anbaa Moscow (, an Arabic language newspaper that is distributed in the entire Middle East. Russia is making serious efforts in the region, even in countries where it doesn't have major strategic or economic concerns. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

so what is the real deal with the S300 anti-aircraft defense system?

obviously not going to happen even though there's a legal contract for delivery.