Russia's First Deputy Press Secretary to President Putin, Dmitry Peskov, lays out the stakes for Russia with a nuclear-armed Iran. In an interview with National Interest online editor Ximena Ortiz, Peskov also makes clear that Russia sees the gas pipeline running through Belarus as Russian property, not to be interfered with.
NIo: Why did Russia support the Security Council resolution leveling sanctions on Iran? Was it primarily out of Russia's dissatisfaction with Iranian cooperation on the nuclear issue or was Moscow focused on broader political goals, such as Russia's relationship with the United States?
Dmitry Peskov: Moscow is concerned with the priority goal of protecting the regime of non-proliferation. This is the most important task. We have to maintain that regime and this is actually the main concern of Russia.
We are the last country in this world that would want to have a nuclear weapon at its southern borders. Let's not forget that the problem of a potentially nuclear Iran is much more vivid for us than for some other remote countries. At the same time, we have to understand that we cannot deprive other states from their right to possess peaceful nuclear energy. This is a right that we have to confirm and that we have to accept. So what is important is to ensure that the program is 100 percent peaceful.
Up to this moment, Iran refused has refused to perform in a satisfactory way for the IAEA. So the IAEA does not actually have any proof that Iran is working on a military nuclear program, but they just want to be100 percent sure. They want to have really solid and really, let's say, justified proofs.
NIo: If Iran continues to fail to satisfy all IAEA concerns, what then would be Russia's next step? Would Moscow be prepared to support more comprehensive sanctions at the Security Council?
DP: Well of course, of course. We are against sanctions for the sake of sanctions, and against sanctions that would punish the Iranian people, but we support sanctions that would be applied in a way that is sensible for IAEA experts. And that is why we supported the draft of the resolution and that's why the consensus was found at the end.
NIo: How do you expect Russia's vote to expect Russia's relationship with Iran?
DP: Well, we, while working on the resolution the Russian Federation managed to explain to its partners that the resolution will not affect the existing Russian contracts with Iranian counterparts and will not affect the continuation of works in the Bushehr nuclear plant, and will not affect other existing contracts that are under work currently.
NIo: But beyond the work at Bushehr, how do you expect the relationship to be affected, if at all?
DP: Well, we hope that it will not affect our relationship, because, I repeat, we support sanctions only that are sensible for IAEA. So we still oppose the wide-range sanctions that will not solve the problem of non-proliferation, that will not secure the regime of non-proliferation, but that will just hit Iranian people.
NIo: In Washington, there is a bipartisan consensus that Iran is indeed seeking nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. What is your president's view in this regard. Is your president convinced Iran is seeking nuclear weapons or that it is more focused on peaceful nuclear energy?
DP: Well our president is receiving information from different sources. Of course we take into consideration concerns that are voiced from all over, from the United States, from some other countries. But this is really a sensitive issue. We have to know it for sure, we have to have evidence. And even the one and only responsible body in that field, that is the IAEA, cannot say for sure, cannot present any proof that Iran is performing a military nuclear program. And of course, we take into account all the concerns but what is important is to possess a concrete proof for that. Otherwise, we all can just get into a very difficult situation.
NIo: Can you outline exactly what Moscow would like to see Iran do to satisfy all doubts regarding their program?
DP: It's very simple. We all expect Iran to respond to the concerns of IAEA experts, to fulfill the relevant resolutions of UN Security Council and to grant IAEA experts necessary access to all the sites so they can be sure that the program is of an entirely peaceful nature.
NIo: And just to revisit this question once again, in light of the fact that Russia is very concerned about applying sanctions that, as you said, are sensible and do not punish the Iranian people, how would Russia balance its desire to tailor these sanctions with a desire also to take action that would substantively affect Iran?
DP: Well we believe in UN Security Council and we believe in the capacity of the resolution that was adopted and we think that the resolution that was adopted will configure the ground for ensuring this regime. Of course we'll expect Iranian side to respond positively actually, I mean to show flexibility towards this resolution.
NIo: OK. But barring that, barring that response, how would Russian then weigh the very difficult question of not wanting to punish the Iranian population but to still take some action?
DP: Well, we're speaking about a potential situation, let's say hypothetic situation, and I don't find it proper to make such a guess. It's too complicated and too sensitive to speak about "if" situations.
NIo: Now, just switching now to another area, is Moscow concerned about the prospect of an intractable confrontation with Belarus over the gas supply issue and how would such a scenario impact Russian-European relations, given Europe's dependence on Russian gas piped through Belarus?
DP: Well, right now this is a priority problem that we're facing. Really, what we see today is that Gazprom cannot reach an agreement with the Belarussian side on the new contract for the year of 2007. So given the fact that there is no contract, we'll face the situation on the first of January that there won't be any legal basis for the continuation of the gas supply to Belarus.
Belarus was for many years one of the most privileged countries, from the point of view of prices for natural gas that were implemented by Gazprom. And in fact, Gazprom and Russia have been subsidizing the Belarussian economy, because Gazprom was actually compensating from its own pocket the gap in prices.
During last couple of years, Gazprom started a policy towards bringing prices to internationally accepted levels. Nearly all the countries in the so-called near-abroad have received offers from Gazprom, and with the majority of the negotiations successfully completed. Some of the countries are paying cash, some of the countries are paying partly cash and partly compensating, sharing their other assets with Gazprom. At the end, Gazprom just wants to get as close to the market price as possible. So this is very transparent and actually well, it's a transparent policy of Gazprom and let's not forget that the Russian government has taken a decision to bring the prices inside the country, gradually, also to international levels.
Belarussia still demands that Russia continues to subsidize the Belarussian economy. Well of course Gazprom is not a company that can supply the Belarussian economy for nothing, and the price that is being demanded by Belarussia cannot even cover the costs of supply, the costs of natural gas itself. It's very important to stress that the price that is being suggested by Gazprom is still much lower than the international price. We of course understand that we have a strategic partnership with Belarussia and they are our ally. So we are ready for low price, supplies but not that low.
Gazprom is a responsible supplier and Gazprom is, let's say, a company that guarantees the energy security of European customers. Gazprom is determined to continue its supplies to European customers and to fulfill all its obligations and we have no doubt that this will.
Let's not forget that the export pipeline, Yamal Europe pipeline, is the property of Gazprom, and this pipeline that passes through territory of Belarussia, passes through the territories that were taken by Gazprom in a long-term rent. So the absence of the contract and the possible shutdown of the supplies to Belarussia in no way will affect the flow of gas in an export pipeline that is a property of Russian company of Gazprom.
NIo: But doesn't that present logistical difficulties and what is the president's view on this, how does he specifically plan to resolve the logistical issue that would come up in the event that the standoff with Belarus continues?
DP: Well, first of all, the negotiations are being done between Gazprom and the Belarussian counterparts, and of course, I mean the president is concerned about that and he hopes that at the end, Belarussian side will show, let's say, will show a vision of the reality and will appreciate the readiness of Gazprom to continue the shipments on the lower prices. We hope that Belarussia will understand that their demands for low prices are illogical.