“A Military Strike at Iran Would Be a Colossal Mistake”: An Interview with Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Vladimir Nazarov


White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last week that Iran’s latest statements and actions were compelling the United States “. . . and other countries” to resort to stiff sanctions.  Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Vladimir Nazarov said in his turn that Moscow might support sanctions but that they must be “adequate to the threat presented by the Iranian nuclear program” and must “not punish the Iranian people.”  Nazarov added that Russia is trying to persuade its Western partners to find a diplomatic solution to the problem instead of “driving Iran into a corner.”  This interview was conducted by Interfax correspondent Pavel Koryashkin for Kommersant.

Q: Previously, Russia supported Iran and opposed sanctions.  These days, however, the impression is that Russia supports the West in its stand on the matter.  What happened?

Vladimir Nazarov: We are concerned about conflicting signals from Iran, including the ones sent in response to the proposals of the Six-Party Group and the IAEA.  We certainly believe that Iran should be more cooperative with the IAEA.

Iran is Russia’s major strategic partner.  Russia wants cooperation with Iran in a whole number of spheres.  Iran is playing an important part in regional and global security.  On the other hand, Russia regards the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons as unacceptable.  That would have consequences in the region and the world in general.  There will be a domino effect: many other countries in the region will make every effort to acquire nuclear weapons as well.  That may trigger new crises and conflicts.

Q: Iran said it was enriching uranium on its own up to 20 percent.  What is our estimate of the date by which Iran might develop nuclear weapons?

VN: We have some ideas on that score, and we regularly check them against the estimates made by our foreign partners who are also closely monitoring the situation.  I cannot give you an exact date.  All I can say is that the progress Iran has made in its nuclear program indicates that the hypothetical dates when it becomes possible for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, as estimated by experts in different countries, are beginning to get closer.

Q: If it comes down to sanctions, will Russia vote for stiff or mild sanctions?

VN: Russia believes sanctions to be counterproductive.  President Dmitry Medvedev, however, said that “. . . sanctions become unavoidable in certain situations.”  Sanctions must be consistent with the degree of threat.  Any deviation can have negative consequences.  If it is sanctions after all, it will be wrong to drive Iran into a corner with them.  There are IAEA experts in Iran monitoring its nuclear facilities.  Iran’s greater cooperation with the IAEA and adherence to the additional protocol to the IAEA safeguards agreement would resolve all issues, restore the transparency of the nuclear program, and revive the international community’s trust in it.

Q: Does it mean that Russia stands for mild sanctions?

VN: Let’s do without labels, shall we?  Sanctions should be adequate to the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program but should not punish the Iranian people.  By the way, sanctions, as a rule, have very little effect on the target’s policy, its military capabilities, or its defense capacity.

Q: How does the Russian Security Council evaluate chances of an American and Israeli strike at Iran?

VN: A military strike at Iran would be a colossal mistake.  Problems associated with the Iranian nuclear program should be solved only by diplomatic means.  Any military action against Iran will explode the situation.  It will have thoroughly negative consequences for the whole world and for Russia, one of Iran’s neighbors.

The Russian Security Council and its secretary never miss a chance to remind their foreign partners that a military option is extremely dangerous and should be avoided.

Q: Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili intended to visit Moscow in January but never did.  Is Moscow still waiting for Jalili’s visit?

VN: We are prepared to welcome him whenever it is convenient for all of us.  Our invitation stands.  At present, it seems, the Iranians attach more importance to protocol than to the substance of the business at hand.

Q: In the current situation, is it all right for Russia to be delivering S-300 complexes to Iran?

VN: There is a signed contract, which we must honor.  Still, no deliveries have been made to Iran yet.  Since the transaction concerns purely defensive weapons, the deal is subject to no restrictions under international law.  On the other hand, all our actions must contribute to global and regional stability, respect for international law, and international obligations, including the ones within the framework of the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Q: Some foreign partners keep asking Russia to stop supplying arms to Iran. . . .

VN: Russia has received, and is still receiving, many requests and even demands that it not deliver weapons to Iran.  Well, the countries that ask that of Russia had better remember their own arms deals with Georgia.

Long before Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia, Russia had asked its Western partners to refrain from giving military aid to Tbilisi.  All our requests were ignored.  Recall that Russian servicemen and civilians were killed as a result of the Georgian aggression.

Russia is still asking its Western partners to end their supply of weapons to Georgia.  Unfortunately, they are continuing it.  Some countries have even gone to great lengths to conceal their involvement in the arming of Georgia.

Q: Georgia is not the only issue over which Russia and the West disagree.  The NATO for example took offence when the new Russian military doctrine called its expansion a threat.

VN: Yes, the NATO is upset by the fact that the Russian national security strategy regards the NATO’s military infrastructure approaching our borders as a threat.  Well, the talk of Georgia’s possible entry into the NATO prompted that country’s leaders to direct aggression against South Ossetia.  We remember how the Baltic states were accepted in the NATO.  Russia was assured that it would improve our relations with the Baltic countries and that it would compel them to show more respect for the rights of national minorities.  And what do we see?  Quite the opposite.  The leadership of the Baltic states became even more viciously anti-Russian.  They dismantle monuments to the Soviet soldiers-liberators, smear symbols of the Great Victory, and hail accomplices of the Nazis as heroes.

We cannot accept the idea that the NATO expansion will enhance our security, which NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen keeps advocating.  This is reflected in our national security strategy and our military doctrine is prepared on its basis.

The original article “Владимир Назаров: военный удар по Ирану стал бы огромной ошибкой” was published by Kommersant on 15 February 2010.

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