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Russia hedging bets on Iran's nukes

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a statement condemning Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, declaring the international community’s patience is “not infinite.”

The words apparently are a signal the Russian leader is willing to support more economic sanctions against Iran if Tehran refuses to open its nuclear program to further international inspection.

The statement was released after the recent four-way deal involving Iran, France, Russia and the United States that would send three-fourths of Iran’s slightly enriched uranium to French and Russian facilities for conversion into fuel for a nuclear power plant.

Iranian media reported Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes the West has “retreated in its nuclear dispute with Tehran.”

The Iranian news agency Press TV quotes President Ahmadinejad saying, “There is no more talk of suspension. We have reached a stage where we are cooperating, on a high level, with other countries that have the technology through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

However, while the dialogues continue, Moscow quietly continues to profit from Iran’s nuclear program.

“The New Cold War” author and former Moscow correspondent for “The Economist” Edward Lucas bluntly says, “If it wasn’t for Russia, Iran wouldn’t have nukes.”

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan confirms the Russians don’t oppose Iran having nuclear energy.

“The Russians believe Iran has the right to a peaceful, non-weapons nuclear program,” Ryan says. “They have the United States, NATO, Pakistan and China. Iran would be just one more nuclear nation.”

CounterterrorismBlog.org’s Caucasus analyst Aaron Mannes says Russia has a multi-tiered interest in Iran.

“The Russians have three interrelated concerns here. They like the money they earn from their nuclear deals with Iran. Russia also has a large Muslim population along its southern borders. Iran has not encouraged radical groups in that area. If they were to start it would be a tremendous problem for the Russians. So keeping the Iranians happy is in Russia’s interests,” Mannes explains.

However, it’s the balance of power with nations that have nuclear weapons capability that truly concerns the Russians.

Ryan says the Russians are attempting to ensure that Iran remains a friendly nuclear power on their southern frontier.

“The Russians are concerned about the plan to impose sanctions on Iran. They ask the question, ‘What if sanctions don’t work?’ If they support sanctions and go hard on Iran, and the sanctions don’t work, then Russia not only has another nuclear neighbor, but one that’s antagonistic,” Ryan explained.

“So, the Russians won’t take any concrete steps against Iran for fear that they’ll end up with the worst of both worlds – a nuclear Iran that can’t get along with Russia,” Ryan added.

Mannes said it’s within Russia’s interests to keep a good relationship with Iran.

“Russia doesn’t have many allies in the Middle East so a relationship with Iran at least gives them a foothold in the region,” he said.

Reports show Russia exports weapons to 80 countries with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. Iran recently purchased a missile defense and an anti-aircraft system from Russia.

However, Lucas isn’t surprised, because Russia’s interest is largely financial.

“The joint statement with the French president is mostly for the public,” he said. “Business usually trumps international obligations in Russia’s foreign policy.”