However, now that Russia has agreed to complete the contract, Moscow and the West have lost an important leveraging mechanism over Tehran. It will now be even more difficult to pressure Iran to halt its enrichment activities at Natanz. The only danger Bushehr poses is a political one. And this will boost Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position greatly. As presidential elections near, he could say that under his presidency, Natanz expanded and the West could not do much about it. This will come at a great time for the Iranian president. With the economy’s performance worsening every year, advances in the nuclear program will be a useful distraction.
One important question to ask is: why did Russia go ahead and complete Bushehr? Why now? These days, the Russian economy is suffering greatly, due to the falling price of oil. Furthermore, its once powerful weapons industry is facing ruin. According to a recent Reuters report, “One third of Russia’s weapons makers are on the verge of bankruptcy.” Iran is a very important market, and the Russians know that Iran could soon be negotiating with the U.S. Should Iran and the West mend fences and improve their relations, the Iranians could take revenge over Russia’s feet dragging in Bushehr by signing massive economic deals with the West. This could be a major blow to Russia’s economy and is probably why Russia decided to improve its relations with Tehran now rather than after the negotiations between Iran and the U.S., as it could be too late by then.
In the bid to garner international support for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, the loss of Russian support could have a negative impact. However, this is the new reality that President Obama has to deal with. This is not the first warning shot by Moscow. The recent closure of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan was seen as a Moscow-backed effort against Washington which will impact U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. It won’t be the last either. More than ever, the EU and the U.S. will have to apply their credibility and economic power to withstand the competition from Moscow.