By Robert J. Pranger
During the week of May 7th, President Vladimir Putin is likely enjoying the start of his fourth term as president of Russia. I use the term “enjoying” with some confidence because, compared with his friend in the White House, it must feel like paradise in Moscow despite demonstrations in a city ruthlessly controlled by police schooled in time-honored Soviet techniques. The most eloquent objections seem to have come via the United States and our former ambassador there under President Obama.
As far as Europe is concerned, Putin faces firm resistance with the continued armed forays in eastern Ukraine by army elements representing Kiev and schooled by members of the New York State National Guard. There is no question, however, that Putin’s main focus will now shift from Ukraine to President Trump’s relations with the Middle East if the latter abandons the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Putin’s major ambitions in Europe would appear now to hinge more on President Trump’s relations with a Europe disturbed and even hostile to the US president’s economic and political views, and more immediately, a decision Trump could make this month rejecting the agreement on Iran’s nuclear future. The president of France has gone so far as to predict war if Trump finally upends this difficult agreement. The United States has indicated it could make a dramatic switch of its current position from a hard-won support in the Obama administration to a negative one held by Israel but rejected by all other parties including Russia. Moscow has expressed strong support for the current understanding with Iran and will continue to do so.
Putin could be sorely tempted to take advantage of the break with Washington on Iran to posture Moscow as a very powerful protector not of Iran alone but also with Arab countries who are adamantly opposed to Trump’s passionate embrace of a peace plan involving Israel that favors a single-state solution between Israelis and the Arabs.
By shifting its position on Iran, Washington could pave the way for Putin to redeem some of his reputation in Europe and the Middle East concerning Russia’s transgressions in Ukraine and Syria, as well as pick up some additional credit for Middle East peace in opposition to an ultra pro-Israel policy of the Trump administration. Some might see such a shift by Washington in its rejection of the Iran agreement.
About the Author
Robert J. Pranger is the former deputy assistant secretary of defense (Middle East). He writes and consults on foreign policy and national security issues.