Avoiding a Cold War, Containing the West’s Influence
During the past few months and due to Russia's resistance against the West regarding regime change in Syria and the veto of Security Council resolutions, issues have been discussed in Iranian media and news circles about the start of a new cold war based on differences between Russia and the West. Proposing such issues in the media without enough depth and reasoning has impacts on political decision-makers and may lead to decisions which might be contrary to our national interests.
The question that must be answered is whether Russia really intends to confront the West, like what existed during the cold war with the existing bipolar world. It does not seem that this is the case. In my opinion, Russia's strategy with regard to the US has not changed in the post-cold war years. The new Russia has based its structure on economic development and is somehow following China's pattern. Of course, Russia is faced with more problems than China; for China has a more homogenous society. Furthermore, Russia, due to its proximity to Europe and the rule of mafia groups and the issue of nuclear weapons and ...., is faced with more problems. Nevertheless, Russia's strategy is based on economic development; hence, talking about a cold war is baseless.
Today, the economy is the number one priority and the principal criteria of a country's power. It is on this basis that Russia has given some concessions to the West in order to become a member of the World Trade Organization. Nevertheless, if we look at Russia from an economic point of view, we will find that this country is very vulnerable due to its uncertain economy. It is true that it has been able to attract foreign investments and people's lives have, to some extent, changed and the society has become consumerist, but its economic structure is weak. Furthermore, the foundation of economic development in Russia is energy and increasing prices of oil and gas have helped this issue. If oil and gas prices return to their previous situation one day, i.e. 20 to 30$, Russia will certainly have to give many concessions to the West in order to maintain itself, and these concessions will be political and even strategic. Therefore, Russia cannot enter a cold war which has no determined future. Putin intends to empower Russia through economic development, improvement of sub-structures and attracting advanced technology, like what China has done during the past years.
Nevertheless, Russia, contrary to China, has more security problems with the US and the West. Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, declared a new security strategy, which has three circles, and removed its commitments with regard to Soviet allies; one of these circles is Russia itself, another one the Russian Federation and the other, commonwealth countries. Russia has proved, in this regard, that it has been successful on the issue of NATO and has controlled its expansion. The issue of Georgia was a heavy blow dealt to the West by Russia to maintain this strategy. Russia separated about one third of this country's land in order to control this matter and any time the West intended to exert pressure, they were confronted with Russia's retaliation in Iran's nuclear issue. In the end, the West was forced to deal with Russia in this matter.
The West reached an agreement with Russia, provided that Russia does not veto the resolution of the Security Council with regard to Iran's nuclear program; it will temporarily ignore human rights issues in Russia; control defensive missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, and, most important of all, ignore the capture of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Regarding NATO's expansion to the east in Ukraine, Russia could, to a great extent, control matters. In Kirgizstan, the government that came to power five years ago with the help of the West, was replaced by a government with inclinations towards Russia in a single move. It means that Russia has been able to control matters.
Russia's resistance in the issue of Syria should not be interpreted as the beginning of a serious and expanded challenge with the West and even a new cold war. On this issue, Russia disagrees, to some extent, with the West's approach. One of the reasons of this disagreement is that Russia has been scarred by the West on the issue of Libya and assumes that the West acted in contradiction with previous agreements. Libya was the Middle East’s western wing for Russia and it was able to achieve many interests there. Iraq, the eastern wing of the Middle East, was a wealthy country and important for Russia, but was taken out of Russia's influence by the US attack. Syria is not a country which Russia could use for its economic interests, as was the case with Iraq and Libya, because it is weak, hence, most of these disputes are related to security matters. A less important issue is military presence in the Mediterranean and in Tartus base of Syria which, following Libya's control by the West, has gained more importance. The more important issue is related to Iran, which is connected to Russia’s third security circle. Russia does not like Iran very much and the two countries pursue different policies, but it must be noted that Iran is the main goal of the West and the US in Syria and Lebanon. What will happen if the regime changes in Syria? Naturally, first, the pressure on Iraq will be increased to further weaken Iran, that is, to cut Iran's influence in the next area. Iran has influence in Iraq and Russia can be hopeful about the future. The more Iran's influence becomes, the less US influence will be. If pressures on Iraq increase, more trouble will be created for Iran, and more serious decisions will be made. It means that they will surround Iran and create threats.
This issue is related to the third security circle of Russia. At the present time, Russia’s third security circle, i.e. southern commonwealth countries, is under Russia's control. It is true that Russia is somewhat present in this circle, but if the regime in Syria changes and they come after Iran and Iran will be lost, the south of the third circle will be completely out of Russia's control. It means that all energy lines from Russia will be overshadowed by US disagreements with Iran. Under these circumstances, the southern part of the third circle can easily obtain a living atmosphere and Russia will lose its control over Europe's energy market. Right now, these countries, due to US disagreements and self-cautious measures, do not have any escape routes from the south, and are controlled in the north by Russia. On this basis, in case of the geopolitical opening of these countries, Russia will lose its most important element of power, i.e. energy, with which it plays with Europe and the West. At the same time, opportunities on other grounds will be provided for them. Threats against the third circle will impact the second circle which is comprised of Russia's tribes and minorities; exactly what the US wants. Therefore, Russia's resistance in Syria will continue until it becomes certain and it will not allow it to be transformed into another cold war.