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The Russian veto in the United Nations Security Council on Monday to block a Western-backed resolution to condemn Iran for its alleged violations of international sanctions and its fueling of the conflict in Yemen was a landmark event.
This is the first time Russia has shot down a US-led move in the Security Council regarding a regional conflict in which it is not directly involved. Moscow did not block the Western moves over Iraq in 2003 or over Libya in 2011, although Russian interests were involved. Nor did Moscow block Kosovo’s admission to the UN as a sovereign state, piloted by the West, in 2008, although it was a bitter pill to swallow in every sense.
In Syria, of course, Russia has exercised its veto power repeatedly both in self-interest and in the interests of its ally. But in the Yemen conflict, Russia is neither a participant nor a protagonist, nor has it any legitimate reason to take sides.
Suffice to say the Russian veto on Monday falls into a category by itself as a manifestation of the Russian-American standoff for global influence. It therefore becomes a turning point in the post-Cold War era of big-power politics.
On its broadest plane, Russia has signaled that the US and its Western allies can no longer dominate the international system and Russia will oppose US hegemony as a matter of principle. This has serious implications for regional and international security.
Russia has signaled that the US and its Western allies can no longer dominate the international system and Russia will oppose US hegemony as a matter of principle. This has serious implications for regional and international security
Indeed, what Russia has done is shoot down an unprincipled Western attempt to isolate Iran from a geopolitical perspective. The West has adopted a cynical position over the conflict in Yemen. The US has been a virtual participant in the conflict by providing military assistance to the Saudi forces and identifying for them targets for their brutal air attacks on Yemen.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has not cared to provide any empirical evidence that the Houthis are dependent on Iran’s support. UN and other experts refuse to accept the US allegation that Iran supplied the Houthis with the missiles that targeted Saudi Arabia. The Barack Obama administration was frank enough to admit that while the Houthis could be “pro-Iran,” there was no alliance as such between the two.
In reality, Zaidi Shiite Muslims are more closely aligned to Sunni Islam than to the Shiism practiced in Iran.
The Russian stance took exception to the British-drafted text (supported by the US and France) containing a condemnation of Iran predicated on “unconfirmed conclusions and reports that should be double-checked and discussed by the sanctions committee,” as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, put it.
Nebenzya noted that the Russian side offered “more than one compromising formulation” but those ideas had been dismissed. He said Russia “is fundamentally against a technical extension of sanctions committees’ export groups being politicized and used for solving not technical and expert tasks, but geopolitical ones.”
Significantly, the aborted British text not only contained condemnations against Tehran on illegal supplies of weapons to Houthis but also stated an intention to assume further measures in response to those violations. Conceivably, Moscow suspected the US intentions in the downstream, given the Trump administration’s hostile strategy toward Iran – scrapping the nuclear deal, imposing more sanctions, rolling back Iran’s missile capability and pushing back at Iran’s surge as a regional power.
In a clear rebuff to Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday in Moscow that “it is necessary to fully implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [Iran nuclear deal]. If there is a desire to discuss some other issues concerning Iran in this format or in another format, this should be done with Iran’s voluntary participation and on the basis of consensus rather than through ultimatums.”
Interestingly, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir telephoned Lavrov on Monday just hours before the Security Council vote. According to the Russian readout, they “exchanged views on a number of issues on the bilateral and Middle East agendas, including in the context of the drafting of a new UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.”
Evidently, if the Trump administration had sought to leverage Saudi-Russian relations, it didn’t work. Moscow has in effect “de-hyphenated” its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Russia has displayed its unique credentials to play an influential role in ending the conflict in Yemen and in facilitating a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Interestingly, Riyadh did not criticize Moscow’s veto on Monday and it was left to the US, Britain, France and Germany to issue a joint statement.
Of course, what emerges, in the final analysis, is the resilience of the Russian-Iranian alliance in Middle East politics. The Western thesis that an “assertive” Iran inevitably grates against Russian “expansionism” in the Middle East stands exposed as an overblown notion.
Ironically, Monday’s event will have a salutary effect on Russian-Iranian coordination in Syria, especially as the two powers prepare for a trilateral summit with Turkey in Istanbul in April.