President Dmitry Medvedev, right, welcomes Iranian President
Ahmadinejad, in Russia to attend the summit of the Shanghai
Organization - a grouping formed by China and Russia as a
to NATO. Medvedev was in a tricky position welcoming a
whose election victory last week has been marred by protests
the greatest political crisis in the history of the Islamic Republic.
The Kremlin Balanced
'Between Two Chairs': Iran's and the West's
"It is this very acrobatic feat which, evidently, embodies the essence and uniqueness of Russian foreign policy. ... The West, most notably the U.S., is now keen for Russian not to reject its more dubious partners like Iran. On the contrary, thanks to these special connections, it could become the mediator for a dialogue with them."
As hard as it would be for someone
to sit in two chairs simultaneously, Russia has traditionally aspired to put
itself in an even more uncomfortable and difficult position - in between the
chairs. It is this very acrobatic feat which, evidently, embodies the essence
and uniqueness of Russian foreign policy.
The widely advertized meeting
between Medvedev and Iranian President Ahmadinejad during the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization summit in Yekaterinburg was publicly cancelled because
the guest was late by a day, and then finally conducted anyway.
But, as was emphasized
by the Kremlin press service, "'within the confines' of the summit." And
although the parties agreed to continue economic and humanitarian cooperation,
the Kremlin made it clear that there were no heart to heart conversations, only
routine handshakes under the watchful eye of the cameras.
What did the Russian side have
to say, with all of the informational fuss surrounding the meeting between the
two presidents? Since unlike our elections, those in Iran were conducted "sloppily,"
and hence failed to avert the protests of the opposition and even a recount,
Russia had to show a coolness to the newly-elected Ahmadinejad - and thus show
Western countries that we, like they, are concerned about the situation in Iran
and in general - that even that we're for democracy and a nuclear-free world.
But since that meeting,
however formal, did take place, would this in turn lead Iran to understand that
we're still partners? The Foreign Ministry sent positive signals toward the east:
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that, "the question of the Iranian
elections is an internal affair of the Iranian people, and we welcome the fact
that the elections took place, and we welcome the newly elected president of
Iran to Russian soil." At the same time, Medvedev, a member of G8, sent
signals to the West by refusing to hold a fully-fledged meeting with the
questionable Iranian leader … Although, it's not at all a fact that these
complex cross-signals, this acrobatic diplomacy by the Kremlin, has been
correctly understood by the recipient parties.
The West, most notably the
United States, is now rather keen for Russian not to reject its more dubious
friends and partners. On the contrary, thanks to these special connections, it
could become the mediator for a dialogue with them. In any case, Obama, whose
ambitious plan is the reformation of relations with many of the traditional and
perennial enemies of the United States, particularly with Iran, is clearly
interested in expanding the number of channels for exchanging views and
But Russia has already missed a
chance to become an intermediary between the West and North Korea, with a
leadership that Putin seemed to begin building a special relationship during the
beginning of his presidency. But since the interest of Russia in its poor North
Korean friends faded rather quickly, China took over the role of leader in the
dialogue with the followers of "Juche ideal."
Western countries will
obviously need Russian assistance - even in the matter
of taming the "last dictator of Europe" - Alexander "Batko"
Lukashenko of Belarus. Bat'ko [father], whose relationship with his Russian
counterparts gets worse by the day, has now actively turned to his Western
neighbors. "We will ensure the reliability of your investments, consider
all your suggestions. I am sure that in Belarus, you will find a good partner"
- said the president of Belarus on Tuesday, receiving Bernd Pfaffenbach,
Germany's secretary of state in the Ministry of Economics and Technology. To
which the German dignitary remarked that even in more difficult times, Germany
understood, "its role as a bridge between Belarus and the European Union."
Being a "bridge" is
clearly not an element from the Russian acrobatic repertoire. Russia has been unable
to use any of its special friendships and connections to acquire the status of
a country capable of resolving difficult global situations and
unraveling the tangled knot of international relations. Russia gained nothing
from its contacts with Saddam Hussein, the Kremlin's flirtations with Kim
Jong-il, or the visit to the Russian capitol of its comrades from Hamas.
It is doubtful whether Russia
will be able to provide effective and active mediation between the West and
The game of "neither for
you nor for us" is seldom successful and requires exceptional virtuosity,
far more than that demanded by the informational games surrounding the not very history-making
meeting of the two presidents.
In order to balance between
two chairs, one needs not only dexterity, but support that is more powerful
than routine chants about the new architecture of global relations.
Today there is no shortage of
those who seek to become the architects of tomorrow. And as cool as the welcome
he received by Russia's architects of the new world order, Ahmadinejad used the
platform of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to pronounce the end of the
old order: "The age of empires has ended and the international capitalist
order is retreating. We are convinced that the current problems stem from
philosophical reasons and that the existing political and economic structures
are moving toward the end of their reign over the world. It is apparent that
the age of empire has ended and it will see no revival."
Searching for a place between
the two chairs is becoming more and more difficult …
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