Don’t make concessions to a cheating player

I have written on the “squeeze Iran, disarm Ukraine” line of geopolitical thinking in this post, and JCass discussed it in the comments to this entry. In three sentences, the logic in question is this: “Putin has nukes, thus must be reckoned with. Let’s admit he has legitimate claims (Ukraine is a pseudo-state anyway) and hand him Ukraine in exchange for non-interference in Iran. Then hit Iran so it never develops nukes.”

This sounds to me a rationale for appeasement, a sampling of low dishonest (and ultimately self-defeating) Realpolitik.

On a personal level, I probably have closer connections to Israel than to Ukraine, but I realize I might end up moving to either of the two countries. I would hate Iranian rockets to kill Israeli civilians but I don’t want Russian shells to explode in Mariupol and Kharkiv either. Anyway, I’m trying to avoid arguing from the personal.

Israel has managed, with American help, to keep Iran from going nuclear for 35 years, counting from the 1979 islamic revolution. Whether the best way to extend that track record is by having Iran agree to a deal within the 5+1 framework or by subjecting it to more stringent conditions, this is not merely a US vs. Israel dispute but also a matter of lively debate within Israel ahead of the March 17 election. It’s democratic business as usual.

What’s been going on in the East of Ukraine and in Crimea is anything but business as usual. First a relatively bloodless land grab, then a rather bloody military invasion masked as a separatist uprising: developments unseen in Europe since 1938-9. The Kremlin’s extraordinary duplicity and dishonesty left little hope for a diplomatic solution. Russia’s repeated cheating has wiped out trust. The Kremlin is also conducting a sophisticated propaganda campaign to sway Western, especially European, public opinion in its favor.

A completely untrustworthy nuclear power that has invaded its largest European neighbor and tries to infect Western electorates with an alternative-reality virus. Do you think that power will keep its promise and leave Iran alone if promised immunity in Ukraine? Especially as it already enjoys a great measure of immunity while the West is recoiling from the thought of arming Ukraine.

There is also the issue of oil prices responding to the lifting of Iran sanctions and of Iranian gas eventually reaching the EU. If these are major concerns for the Kremlin, one should expect it to sabotage any sustainable improvement in US- and EU-Iran relations, no matter what it does in Ukraine.


  1. The cheating is the key point. Remember the Budapest Memorandum, anyone? As I think you’ve said before, Putin operates in the short- and medium-term. Any agreements he makes are purely provisional and will last only as long as it’s convenient or the other partners can force him to keep to their terms.

    Putin doesn’t really have any incentive to abandon Iran, which is doing a lot of the heavy-lifting defending Russia’s only genuine Middle Eastern ally, Assad, in Syria.

    • Does anybody in here remember ninety-four? Only the Ukrainians do, it seems: it’s hard to forget being deceived.

      On another note, Putin’s week-long absence from public view has been noted by the Russian press.

      • But Russians are supposed to remember 1954 when Crimea was “stolen” from them.

        Putin’s absence is mysterious but I bet he’ll re-emerge in due course just like Kim Jong Un once he overcame the effects of his cheese binge.

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