18 October 2018
Moscow: 21:16
London: 19:16

Consular queries:  
+44 (0) 203 668 7474  



The opinions expressed by the authors of the articles in this section are for discussion purposes only and may not coincide with the position of the Russian Government and the Embassy


Uncertain World: The war of nerves around Iran

The January/February 2012 issue of the magazine Foreign Affairs features an article with the shocking title: Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option. It is indicative of the current mood and may set the tone for the rest of the year.

Iran was at the top of the agenda at the end of 2011, and that has not changed in the new year. In response to the Western countries’ intention to ban the purchase of Iranian oil, Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the transit route for a fifth of the world’s oil. The United States has warned that any attempts to close the strait may be met with military force. Washington will not tolerate any threats to the freedom of navigation, a pillar of U.S. global dominance.

This is a psychological war. Both sides are playing a game of brinksmanship, hoping that they will not have to act on their threats.

Why has the U.S.-Iran standoff suddenly intensified? It is unlikely that Tehran has dramatically advanced its nuclear program, though it clearly sought to provoke the United States and its Western allies by announcing the early launch of a new uranium enrichment plant. Even U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Washington Post that, in his opinion, “Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb.” As with Libya a year ago, the U.S. military is not advocating war. “The responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them [Iran] to force them to do the right thing,” Panetta said.

Tensions have escalated recently because for the first time in the many years of debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, non-proliferation is now viewed in the context of the regional confrontation between the Sunni regimes of large Arab countries and Iran’s Shiite government, fanned by the Arab Spring.

The United States is focused on the global dimension of the problem. A nuclear Iran would be a heavy blow to U.S. prestige after 15 years of trying to prevent this outcome. As for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab monarchies, they are concerned with the issue of regional dominance. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who had been the main counterweight to Iran’s regime, has greatly strengthened Tehran. The Arab Spring offered a chance for retaliation by undermining Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, the main ally of Iran and a sponsor of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement. If the Syrian government falls, the balance of power in the region, which has already been shaken up, will change dramatically.

The United States is ambivalent. On the one hand, we see the formation of a sort of “coalition of the willing,” a phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense from 2001 to 2006 under President George W. Bush. The coalition includes Arab monarchies, Israel and the United States, which want to resolve the Iranian issue, although for different reasons. On the other hand, Washington is reluctant to be drawn into regional intrigue, with the leading Arab countries, primarily the rich Gulf monarchies, essentially calling the shots. This would not suit U.S. interests after Barack Obama has said that the United States is “turning the page on a decade of war.”

What role is Russia playing in all this? Traditionally Moscow has been against excessively pressuring or, worse yet, using military force against Iran. Russia’s basic approach, which it deviated from in the case of Libya, is that interference in the internal affairs of other countries is impermissible, especially since the pretext most often differs from the real objective (see Iraq and Libya).

By now we are familiar with Iran’s game. Its show of resolve will likely be followed by a new series of peace proposals directed mainly at Russia and China. This has happened before, but Russia’s protection of Iran is not unconditional. Following news of Iran’s new uranium enrichment plant, the Russian Foreign Ministry clearly indicated that the will of the international community must not be disregarded.

However, if we put ideological considerations and preferences aside, a military operation against Iran could benefit Russia by slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Russia and other countries do not need a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, a conflict would increase oil prices, which would benefit Russia, even if only in the short term. And finally, the United States would become bogged down in Iran and hence distracted from the post-Soviet space. Furthermore, the more problems Washington has in Central Eurasia, the more it will depend on Russian assistance. As with Afghanistan and the Russian transit route, Iran could strengthen Russia’s importance as a U.S. partner.

Tehran and Washington so far have been careful not to cross the line in their diplomatic and military brinksmanship. That being said, only a fool would make predictions in this era of global uncertainty.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


Is Russia unpredictable? Perhaps, but one shouldn’t exaggerate – its randomness often follows a consistent pattern. But is the world at large predictable? The past two decades have seen all forecasts refuted more than once and have taught us only one thing – to be ready for any change. This column is on what the nations and governments are facing in the era of global uncertainty.

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments. He is also a frequent commentator on international affairs and contributes to various media in the United States, Europe and China, including academic journals Social Research, Europe-Asia Studies, Columbia Journal of International Affairs. Mr. Lukyanov is a senior member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civic Society Institutions. He holds a degree from Moscow State University.



The current round phase of Russia’s pivot to the East was conceived in the second half of the 2000s as a largely belated economic response to the rise of Asia, which opened up a plethora of opportunities for the development of the country and primarily its eastern regions. This rise offered a chance to turn the territory beyond the Urals and the Russian Far East from predominantly an imperial burden or rear in the confrontation with the West, and sometimes the forefront in the rivalry with Japan or China, into a springboard for the development of the whole country.


Oleg Barabanov, Timofey Bordachev, Fyodor Lukyanov, Andrey Sushentsov, Dmitry Suslov, Ivan Timofeev, Moscow, February 2017

18.02.2017 - Global riot and global order. Revolutionary situation in the world and what to do about it - report by Valdai discussion club

(Report in Russian, English version to be published shortly) Спустя много лет после студенческих волнений, которые охватили практически весь мир в 1968 году, активист тогдашнего движения Даниэль Кон-Бендит так вспоминал суть происходившего: «Это было восстание поколения, родившегося после Второй мировой войны, против общества, которое военное поколение построило после 1945 года». Бунт проявлялся по-разному– в зависимости от места действия. В Варшаве и Праге люди протестовали против коммунистического режима, в Париже и Франкфурте клеймил и буржуазно-консервативное засилье, в Сан-Франциско и Нью-Йорке возмущались милитаризмом и неравноправием, а в Исламабаде и Стамбуле отвергали власть военных. Всех объединяло нежелание житьпо-старому.«Мы были первым медиапоколением. СМИ играли большую роль, потому что они передавали искру жгучего неприятия, и она воспламеняла одну страну за другой», – вспоминал Кон-Бендит.

03.02.2017 - Sergei Karaganov, Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, "A view from Moscow"

The victory of Donald Trump reinforced international tendencies, which had been obvious for Russians and which had been guiding Russian behavior for last few years. Among them – deglobalization led by forces, which previously created it, but started to retreat from it, when they saw that it benefits others equally or more. The change in correlation of forces against the old world and towards Asia will continue, though at somewhat slower pace than in previous decades. China will continue to become in the very foreseeable future an equal to the U.S. in cumulative power. Europe of the EU will continue to muddle down. (Hopefully, not towards a collapse, but something leaner, more stable and healthier like a Common market, Schengen minus, two Eurozones or a Eurozone minus). The rivalry between the U.S. and China will continue to exacerbate. The confrontation between Russia and the West will continue, but will gradually dampen.

20.08.2015 - The Interview: Henry Kissinger

The National Interest’s editor, Jacob Heilbrunn, spoke with Henry Kissinger in early July in New York.

10.08.2015 - "Shame on UK for Sham Litvinenko Trial", by William Dunkerley for "Eurasia review"

What started off as a massive fabrication in 2006 just received a great boost from a complicit British government. The mysterious polonium death of reputed former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko is the focus. An inexplicably long series of official UK hearings on this nearly 9 year old case has just concluded. That’s prompted a new flurry of sensational media reports.

02.06.2015 - Eurasian Way Out of the European Crisis (Article by Sergei Karaganov, to be published in late June in "Russian in Global Affairs")

I have already written before that having emerged victorious from the Cold War, Europe lost the post-war peace. The continent is on the verge of strategic degradation that may either become a caricature of military-political division into opposing blocs or a time of disquieting uncertainty. The military-political conflict over Ukraine can escalate as well.

13.03.2015 - NEW RULES OR NO RULES? XI Annual Valdai Discussion Club Meeting Participants' Report

In Search of an Order For those who believe in the magic of numbers, the year 2014 was further proof in its existence. The World War I centenary had been anticipated in awe and History, by taking another dramatic twist, confirmed the worst of expectations. It pronounced that centuries-old conflicts are still with us and that such concepts as the balance of powers, borders, and sovereignty are still relevant even in the era of a global interdependence.

15.09.2014 - Western delusions triggered this conflict and Russians will not yield (by Professor Sergey Karaganov for FT)

The west is without direction and losing sight of moral convictions, writes Sergey Karaganov

29.05.2014 - It’s not just about gas: why China needs Russia (by Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy)

In a pre-election article published a little over two years ago, Vladimir Putin wrote that Russia wanted to harness the Chinese wind for its sails of development. Every sailor knows that in stormy weather, and the world is a stormy place today, controlling a sailing ship is incredibly difficult. But by working skilfully there is a chance of inching one's goal much faster.

all messages