Putin's Next Move

Low oil prices knocked the wind out of Vladimir Putin’s grand strategy, so Austin Bay ponders what’s next for the Russian strongman:

According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”

For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.

Here’s a discomfiting speculation. Putin could complicate a Western response by suggesting Russian warships will defend Iranian ports against all “aggressors.”

Here’s a darker speculation cast as a question. Would a desperate strategist encourage Iran to fight a proxy war against Saudi Arabia or a smaller Gulf Arab producer?

That would certainly send oil prices back up towards, or even past, $100 a barrel.