Iran’s S-300 lawsuit against Russia may backfire

I’m resuming posting briefs I write for Oxford Analytica. This one was published in early September.

In July, news broke that Iran had filed an arbitration case in Geneva seeking a 4 billion dollar fine against Russia for cancelling its contract to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. There has been speculation that the claim is actually part of a move by the two sides to restore the contract, perhaps as part of a larger deal that would have Russia resume significant military sales to Iran. In fact, Tehran’s move has angered Moscow.

Impact

o   The presence of the S-300 systems would make Iranian nuclear installations much less vulnerable to attack by Israeli or Western forces.

o   The situation complicates Russia’s relations with Iran, and makes it harder for Moscow to maintain ambiguity on Iran’s nuclear programme.

o   It is possible that Moscow has already threatened, in private, to cease UN Security Council vetoes of anti-Iranian resolutions.

o   If it moves forward, the case in Geneva is likely to be decided in favour of Russia.

What next

Tehran’s lawsuit may result in at least a temporary cooling of Russian-Iranian relations and a corresponding opportunity to increase international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. Russia is less likely than ever to resume sales of weapons to Iran in a situation where such a move would be seen as caving in to Iranian pressure. Instead, Moscow will seek to pressure Tehran to withdraw the claim without preconditions, and may publicly threaten to stop vetoing anti-Iranian resolutions in the UN Security Council if Tehran does not comply.

Analysis

The contract to sell five S-300PMU-1 battalions to Iran for 800 million dollars was originally signed in December 2007. The Russian government promptly became subject to a great deal of private and public lobbying by Israel, the United States and other Western countries that sought to have the deal cancelled.

Russia reverses its decision

Although the Russian government has resisted Western pressure for several years, it decided to cancel the contract in September 2010. Soon after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed sanctions banning the sale of most missile systems to Iran, then-President Dmitry Medvedev went further by announcing that Russia would stop virtually all military exports to Iran. The Russian government then returned the 167 million dollar advance it had received from Iran for the missiles. The units themselves were disassembled. The total losses to Russian arms exporters as a result of the freeze on military sales to Iran could be as a high as 1 billion dollars per year.

Iran has periodically sought to restore the contract. These efforts initially consisted of quiet diplomacy, followed by public complaints. To increase pressure on Russia, in April 2011, the Iranian government filed a case with the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, claiming damages of around 900 million dollars from the cancellation of the contract. Iran’s argument is that the UN-mandated sanctions approved in 2010 did not apply to the S-300 missiles, since these were ground-to-air missile systems and designed primarily for defensive purposes. Observers largely agree that Russia’s move went beyond what the UN sanctions required.

The S-300 dispute generated widespread attention again this summer, as the Iranian government withdrew its case from the Paris tribunal. Tehran refiled it at the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva, and raised the damages sought to 4 billion dollars. Neither side drew attention to the lawsuit; information about the filing became public in July with the publication of the annual report of Rosoboroneksport, Russia’s state arms dealer. Since Rosoboroneksport is listed as the defendant in the claim, the potential liability was listed in the report.

Iranian officials have repeatedly noted that they are not interested in receiving the money they would get by winning their case. Iran saw Medvedev’s decree as a public humiliation that affected its pretensions to status as a regional power, in addition to reducing its ability to defend itself against possible Israeli or US air strikes.

Iran wants contract restored

The Iranian ambassador to Moscow has openly stated that should Russia agree to send the missiles, Iran would withdraw its suit. The implication is that Iran was using the suit in order to pressure Moscow to reinstate the contract. The size of the claim is equal to one-third of Rosoboroneksport’s annual revenue.

Tehran makes serious miscalculation

Tehran believes that the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency, combined with escalating war of rhetoric on the part of Israel vis-a-vis Iran, has created a window of opportunity for Russia to reconsider its decision. It may be easier for Putin to restore the contract than it would have been for Medvedev, who signed the original decree to cancel the sale. Iranian leaders also believe that Russia wants to avoid the regional chaos that would most likely follow Israeli or US air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. One way of preventing such strikes is to bolster Iranian defences against air attack, which is the main purpose of S-300 missile systems.

However, if Iranian leaders believe that putting financial pressure on Russia will force them to resume arms sales, they have miscalculated. Russian leaders have already indicated that they will take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear programme if Iran does not withdraw the suit. One Kremlin official was quoted stating that if Tehran does not withdraw its claim in the near future, it will be on its own in dealing with the international community on nuclear issues.

Change of tactics

Iran appears to have recognised its error in judgment and has already begun to back off. The Iranian ambassador said that the size of the claim was increased by the court, rather than by Tehran. This seems unlikely, as even if the court chose to include punitive damages without an explicit request from Iran, the amount would have been discussed with the plaintiff in advance.

An end in sight?

Russia does not want to be seen as Iran’s pawn. At the same time, Moscow wants to maintain an ambiguous position on Iran’s nuclear programme — seeking to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while helping it resist Western pressure to completely shut down its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.

While the case is unlikely to result in a long-term shift in Russian-Iranian relations, it may damage the relationship in the short term. Iran will test the domestic Bavar 373 long-range air defence system during military exercises in October. If the system proves successful, Tehran may feel less of a need to continue seeking the S-300 and may decide to end the episode by withdrawing its claim.

 

Escalation fears underwrite Russia’s strategy on Iran

In honor of the recently concluded round of negotiations on Iranian nuclear weapons, here’s a brief I wrote back in February for Oxford Analytica.

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In response to Tehran’s announcement of advances in its civilian nuclear capabilities, the Russian Foreign Ministry yesterday urged the international community to re-engage Iran in serious negotiations, with the aim of forestalling the development of a credible nuclear weapons programme. While Russia is often portrayed as uncritically supportive of Iran, the bilateral relationship is more complicated than it appears. Moscow’s resistance to strong UN Security Council sanctions reflects its strategy of trying to maintain a relatively robust economic relationship with Tehran, while also hoping that Iran can serve as a bulwark against other Middle Eastern states that Russia views as hostile to its own interests. Yet Russia does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, as this would threaten its own national security.

What next

Russia would like to see a comprehensive agreement, whereby Tehran agrees to stop its nuclear weapons programme in return for the end of sanctions and reintegration of Iran into the international community. Should Iran make the first aggressive move by following through on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, Russia will benefit in the short term from higher oil prices. However, this would be more than off-set by a subsequent intensification of regional instability. Over the longer term, Russia would be best served by stable oil prices, not extremely high ones.

Analysis

Most Russian corporates have complied with international sanctions, which have made it difficult for multinationals to pursue opportunities in Iran: large contracts have been repeatedly called off or postponed. Yet economic cooperation remains significant, and Russian civilian aviation manufacturers (such as Tupolev and Sukhoi) regard Iran as an important growth market, though there has been some criticism from the Iranian side that Russian companies have been slow to deliver on their promises. Russian telecommunications major Megafon occasionally has been linked to efforts to expand Iran’s cellular network, but has repeatedly denied any interest in operating there.

Oil and gas opportunities?

Russian firms are actively interested in the Iranian hydrocarbons sector — but results have usually fallen short of ambitions:

o   The two countries have signed various treaties to cooperate in gas and oil extraction, and were part of an effort (along with Qatar) to establish a gas cartel that could parallel the OPEC in oil markets.

o   Russian firms have also sought to play a role in Iran’s efforts to boost production and build new pipelines. However, this relationship has recently soured, culminating last autumn with Iran removing Gazprom Neft from the development of the Azar oilfield. Earlier, Lukoil withdrew from a project to develop the Anaran oilfield as a result of US sanctions against Iran.

o   Mooted gas-swap arrangements have never moved beyond the discussion stage.

o   The Iranian National Petrochemical Company and Sibur are considering possibilities for the latter to build several major petrochemical plants in Iran.

Civilian nuclear engagement

The long-delayed Bushehr power plant finally came online last September, and will continue to be operated by a Russian-Iranian joint venture for at least the next two years before passing to sole Iranian control. Russia receives all spent fuel from the reactor, thus helping to ensure that it cannot be weaponised. Since the completion of Bushehr, there have been discussions about Russia helping Iran build another reactor. So far, these talks have not progressed; given that Iran is now working on its own reactor at Darkhovin, Tehran may believe that it no longer needs Russian assistance.

Dwindling military-technical ties

While Iran used to be one of Russia’s leading defence industry customers, this relationship has almost completely collapsed in the wake of President Dmitry Medvedev’s September 2010 decision to ban sales of missile systems, armoured vehicles, warplanes, helicopters and ships to Iran. This decision — which went beyond the UN-mandated sanctions — ended the long-standing saga of whether Russia would transfer S-300 missile systems (a contract for which had been signed in 2007) to Iran. Since then, Russian military sales have been limited to equipment needed to modernise previously transferred anti-aircraft defence systems and electronic warfare and reconnaissance systems.

Recent discussions between Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and the Iranian ambassador to Moscow have resulted in a verbal agreement to restore military cooperation, but this is unlikely to result in significant arms sales and will not lead to the revival of the S-300 deal.

Russia’s strategic calculus

While bilateral ties have been periodically difficult, Moscow is well aware of Iran’s important geopolitical role — not just in the Middle East, but also Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russian leaders have long believed that protests such as the 2009 Green Movement could destabilise a great many states in Russia’s ‘south’, and this view has only been confirmed by the ‘Arab awakenings’. They also fear that an Israeli strike on Iran would be the first step in a regional conflict that could engulf the entire Middle East and generate massive refugee flows into Russia via Azerbaijan.

At the same time, Russian policymakers are also concerned about the possibility of Iran creating instability on Russia’s southern border, especially in light of difficult relations between Iran and Azerbaijan. In autumn 2011, Russia and Kazakhstan conducted a military exercise designed to defend offshore oil and natural gas platforms from an attack by state-sponsored sabotage teams. Though no specific opposing state was named in the scenario, the potential adversary could only have been Iran. Russian military planners recently announced that next autumn’s large-scale military exercise would take place in the Caucasus and involve the premise of a war that begins with an attack on Iran, but turns into a regional conflict that draws in Russia.

Nuclear perceptions

Russian leaders believe that Iran already has the technical ability and materials to build a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so. For this reason, it opposes the use of air strikes (or other military means) to damage the Iranian nuclear programme. The logic is that while military strikes would certainly set back the programme in the short term, they would only reinforce Iran’s determination to acquire a nuclear weapon in order to deter potential future attacks. From Russia’s perspective, negotiations are thus the only means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

Impact

o   If talks with Tehran were to fail, Russian leaders perceive that Israel and the United States would attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

o   The concern is that such a course of action would lead to wider destabilisation — and would not deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

o   In the event of an Israeli strike on Iran, Russian interests would be best served by remaining on the sidelines.

Russia’s Iran Strategy

Another piece that I wrote for Oxford Analytica has been picked up (in edited form) by CNN. Here’s the repost.

In response to Tehran’s announcement of advances in its civilian nuclear capabilities, the Russian Foreign Ministry on February 15 urged the international community to re-engage Iran in serious negotiations, with the aim of forestalling the development of a credible nuclear weapons program. While Russia is often portrayed as uncritically supportive of Iran, the bilateral relationship is more complicated than it appears.

Most Russian corporates have complied with international sanctions, which have made it difficult for multinationals to pursue opportunities in Iran. Large contracts have been repeatedly called off or postponed. Yet economic cooperation, especially in the civilian aviation, telecom and hydrocarbons sectors, remains significant.

While Iran used to be one of Russia’s leading defense industry customers, this relationship has almost completely collapsed in the wake of President Dmitry Medvedev’s September 2010 decision to ban sales of missile systems, armored vehicles, warplanes, helicopters and ships to Iran. This went beyond the U.N.-mandated sanctions. Since then, Russian military sales have been limited to equipment needed to modernize previously transferred anti-aircraft defense systems and electronic warfare and reconnaissance systems.

While bilateral ties have been periodically difficult, Moscow is well aware of Iran’s important geopolitical role – not just in the Middle East, but also Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russian leaders have long believed that protests such as the 2009 Green Movement could destabilize a great many states in Russia’s ‘south’, and this view has only been confirmed by the ‘Arab awakenings’. They also fear that an Israeli strike on Iran would be the first step in a regional conflict that could engulf the entire Middle East and generate massive refugee flows into Russia via Azerbaijan. At the same time, Russian policymakers are also concerned about the possibility of Iran creating instability on Russia’s southern border, especially in light of difficult relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Russian military planners recently announced that next autumn’s large-scale military exercise would take place in the Caucasus and involve the premise of a war that begins with an attack on Iran, but turns into a regional conflict that draws in Russia.

Russian leaders believe that Iran already has the technical ability and materials to build a nuclear weapon should it choose to do so. For this reason, it opposes the use of air strikes (or other military means) to damage the Iranian nuclear program. The logic is that while military strikes would certainly set back the program in the short term, they would only reinforce Iran’s determination to acquire a nuclear weapon in order to deter potential future attacks. From Russia’s perspective, negotiations are thus the only means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

Russia would like to see a comprehensive agreement, whereby Tehran agrees to stop its nuclear weapons program in return for the end of sanctions and reintegration of Iran into the international community. Should Iran make the first aggressive move by following through on its threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, Russia will benefit in the short term from higher oil prices. However, this would be more than off-set by a subsequent intensification of regional instability. Over the longer term, Russia would be best served by stable oil prices, not extremely high ones.

Observations on Center-2011

The Center-2011 exercise is officially concluding today. What follows are some observations culled from the Russian newspapers, not necessarily all connected. I’ll try to put together an assessment of the exercise in a few days, once more reports from the field come in.

1. There was an interesting article in Moskovskii Komsomolets that addressed the question of threat, as in “who is this exercise really aimed at?” The author argued that the exercise planners’ internal documents show that the part of the exercise conducted in Kazakhstan near Aktau and on the Caspian Sea was aimed at Iran. The exercise storyline was based on a hypothetical decision by Iran’s leadership to respond to an American airstrike by targeting oil fields in Kazakhstan’s Mangystau oblast that are operated by American corporations (especially Exxon-Mobil). The idea was that since Kazakhstan would not be able to singlehandedly repel an Iranian attack, it would request assistance from Russia through CSTO channels and together the two armies would repel the Iranian land and sea attack. Of course, military and government officials in both countries have rejected the notion that Iran is the opponent in the exercise, sticking to the usual storyline that the opponent is fictitious and represents no specific country.

A second, and more publicly acknowledged, opponent for the exercise as a whole is “international radical Islamic terrorism.” Various parts of the overall exercise are designed to counter Islamist radicals seeking to overthrow various Central Asian governments. The concern here is clearly to prepare for the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. Central Asian and Russian leaders fear that this withdrawal will be followed by a Taliban takeover and the spread of radical Islam into Central Asia, possibly with Iranian assistance. They hope to make sure that CSTO is prepared to counter any future moves of this type.

2. One of the goals of the exercise is to get the military to use new regulations that call for much more initiative on the part of battlefield commanders than the old regs left over from the Soviet era. According to Viktor Litovkin, the new rules require each brigade, battalion, and company commander to make his own decision on how to deal with specific situations, reporting to higher-level commanders but not waiting for them to make all decisions, as used to be the case.

At the same time, communication between field commanders and headquarters remains a weak point, with little information coming out about the use of automated tactical control systems. Given the publicly acknowledged efforts to increase C2 automation, it seems virtually certain that lack of information about the use of these systems means that they are not yet in widespread use among the troops. Without such systems, the use of UAVs and other high tech weaponry will remain quite limited.

3. Dedovshchina remains a problem, despite all sorts of efforts to stamp out hazing. An article in Rossiiskaia Gazeta reflects on a rash of suicide attempts in one unit involved in the exercise. While commanders sought to hide the extent of problems, it appears that most of the attempts were the result of conflicts among soldiers who were in the same draft cohort. In the past, hazing occurred primarily across cohorts, so this is perhaps a disturbing new development. Although the article did not discuss the ethnicity of the soldiers involved, many recent incidents of hazing in the military were the result of tensions within units along ethnic lines.

4. The military’s shift to civilian contractors for logistics, including food, has caused some problems of its own. While the quality of the food served on base has improved, civilian contractors by and large do not provide the food when units are deployed or out on exercise. This means that the military has to continue to train cooks, who make the food when the unit is away from its base. However, this food remains poor in quality and furthermore, the cooks have nothing to do the rest of the time, when the unit is on base. In addition, the continued training of cooks increases costs.

During Center-2011, some units are being fed by contractors, so this may be a temporary problem. However, so far there have been no signals that the training of soldier-cooks will be eliminated.

 

 

Why was the S-300 canceled?

The recent decree signed by President Medvedev canceling the sale of the S-300 surface to air missiles has raised some questions about decision-making in the Russian government about arms exports. Analysts who spend their time looking for tensions in the Russian “tandemocracy” have suggested that this decision is a sign that President Medvedev was able to get his way on this issue against the wishes of Prime Minister Putin. Other interpretations indicated that Iranian behavior in recent years or months led Putin to change his mind on the sale, which he supported since the initial decision was made several years ago. In this interpretation, in signing the decree Medvedev was simply doing what he was told by his “superior.”

I don’t think these are the only two options. I have always been skeptical of interpretations that depend on finding disagreements between Medvedev and Putin. At the same time, I don’t think Medvedev is Putin’s puppet. My interpretation of the Russian top leadership is that decisions are made largely by consensus among the 4-5 top people, with Putin acting as first among equals and in some ways the arbitrator/final decision-maker. This was true when he was president and hasn’t changed much in the current environment. In this light, Putin doesn’t have to have completely changed his mind, nor did he get rolled by Medvedev. Perhaps his view became less strong and the views of enough other players changed that the consensus moved in a different direction. Obviously I don’t have evidence that this is how decisions are made in the Kremlin right now, but there is some reasonable evidence that this is how it was done back in 2007. I haven’t seen anything that would lead me to believe that much has changed.

As far as the specifics of the S-300 decision, I don’t think the Russian leaders were ever all that strongly committed to selling the S-300 to Iran. I think that to some extent, it was always partially a bargaining chip that was used against the U.S. in moments when relations were problematic. So from that point of view, it’s possible that Putin didn’t change his mind at all, but the circumstances changed sufficiently that the balance between Russia’s bilateral relationships with the U.S. and Iran changed sufficiently that it became worthwhile to publicly shift positions on this sale. This would mean that U.S. policies toward Russia were bearing fruit.

This interpretation is supported by the breadth of the presidential decree, which prohibits the sale of virtually all military technology to Iran. Russian analysts estimate the total cost to Russian arms exporters of leaving the Iranian market to be around 11-13 billion dollars, of which the S-300 sale was just 800 million. If Russia just wanted to make a gesture toward the U.S., it would have been sufficient to ban the sale of the missiles while leaving other military cooperation intact. The fact that all military sales were banned implies that this is more than a gesture — it implies that Russian leaders have decided that they need to have much better relations with the United States and also with Israel. One possibility is that they hope that this change in policy will remove any remaining roadblocks to the Russian purchase of sensitive military technologies from the West. The Mistral deal is undoubtedly part of this calculus, but so is the purchase of more advanced UAVs from Israel.

Russian military threat assessment stays old school

I recently came across an interesting article in Voennaia Mysl, the most authoritative official Russian military publication on matters of doctrine and military planning. The title translates to “Political-military aspects in the formation of Russian interests on the southern geopolitical vector.” This article, written by Colonel Maruev and Lt. Colonel Karpenko and published last November, serves as a good indicator of how military planners view Russia’s military planning priorities for the near term.

The authors state clearly and up front that the southern sector is the most tense from the point of view of assuring Russian national security. This is a welcome antidote to recent items (including the new military doctrine) arguing that NATO presents the chief threat to Russia.  But unfortunately, this kind of new thinking does not last beyond the first page. In fact, the ostensible NATO threat repeatedly sneaks in through the back door, as it were.

Georgia and the Caucasus

For the authors, Georgia presents the main threat of instability in the region, plausibly enough given the recent conflict there. Blame for the deterioration of Russian-Georgian relations is placed squarely on the Georgian leadership, who “see Russia as their enemy” and therefore make cooperation impossible. Instead, the authors advocate not just supporting Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence, but in fact call for using these territories as a “launching pad for the further expansion of Russian influence in the Caucasus in order to realize [our] geopolitical interests.” This should be done by increasing Russian military presence in the two regions in order to counter Georgian military forces, which are equipped with the latest in modern NATO military technology. (No mention is made of the extent to which “modern” Georgian military forces failed in their war with Russian forces using almost exclusively with Soviet-era equipment — equipment can help win wars, but not if facing a vastly more numerous and better trained force.)

The authors then turn to the pernicious role of US efforts to take the states of the Caucasus out of the zone of Russian influence by bringing them into western political-military structures. Countering this effort in Georgia is seen as very difficult, but can be achieved by fulfilling all obligations made by Moscow in the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan and thus showing the Georgian population that Russia does not have any aggressive intentions toward their country. The hope is that this method of rebuilding trust would lead to a political change in Georgia that would bring to power more pro-Russian politicians. The contradiction between “fulfilling obligations made by Moscow in the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan” and increasing Russian forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia  is not addressed, which leads me to think that Russian military planners interpret these obligations as requiring the withdrawal of forces merely to the borders of the “newly independent states,” rather than back into Russia proper.

Armenia is seen as a critical country in the region because of the presence of Russian military bases on its territory and its consequent role in containing Turkish and Azerbaijani interests. Maintaining Russian influence can be accomplished by not allowing the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the consequent end of Armenia’s transport and economic isolation through a scenario designed by the West. All I can say is that they better hope that Armenians don’t read this article.

Actually, the same goes for Azerbaijan, where the authors argue that the main problem for relations is that Baku is trying to connect relations with Moscow to the solution of the Karabakh conflict along lines that benefit Azerbaijan. (Shocking, I know…) They advocate using some flexibility in dealing with Azerbaijan, because of the country’s geopolitical importance.

In true zero-sum neo-realist fashion, the authors argue that Russia needs to make clear to the Caspian littoral states that their developing close relations with external powers would destroy their traditional links to Russia, thus causing them significant economic and political-military problems.

The Near East and Iran

In the concluding section of the article, Maruev and Karpenko turn to the Near East, focusing on Russia’s close relations with Lebanon and Syria, and also on the possibility of forming a pro-Russian lobby in Israel that could be used to further Russian interests in the region. (Fifth column, anyone?)

Relations with Syria are primarily supposed to focus on arms sales and the development of the Russian naval base at Tartus, while Lebanon should receive economic assistance in order to prevent it from drawing closer to the US. Iraq is mentioned  in the context of trying to revive Russian economic positions, particularly in the energy sector.

Finally, the authors argue that the current tension around Iran’s nuclear program partially benefits Moscow by keeping energy prices high, while also posing a danger because of the potential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They essentially advocate continuing to play both sides to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons while also trying to convince Western powers to be more flexible.

Analysis

All I can really say is that I’m glad the Russian military has so little influence in Moscow’s corridors of power these days. If the sentiments expressed in this article were actually Russian policy, I would have to go crawling back to George Friedman to ask for forgiveness. But fortunately (both for me and for the world), this article is more of a last gasp from a dying breed of Russian military strategists who continue to see threats from the West lurking around every corner and hope that politicians will believe them so they can get more resources for the army.

This is not to say that they are wrong on all aspects. Clearly, Russian leaders would love to have a more pro-Russian Georgian government in power and have taken political steps to try to make such an outcome more likely. I don’t see this as any different from steps taken by every other significant power in the world (and particularly the US) to try to change hostile regimes in strategically significant countries. The key question is not whether states try to influence the politics of other states, but whether they do this through illegal and/or destabilizing means, such as by fomenting coups. So far, since the war Russia doesn’t appear to have crossed this line Georgia, but it has come close.

I would argue that Russian policy in the region is far more subtle than the brute force zero-sum security thinking of the authors. Russian leaders are perfectly capable of conducting a far more subtle foreign policy that allows for close relations, for example, simultaneously with Armenia on security issues in the Caucasus and Turkey on trade and energy, as well as Black Sea security. Furthermore, Russia has been maintaining fairly cordial relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia for years now and there’s no reason to think it can’t continue to work with both states. Furthermore, I would argue that solving the Karabakh conflict is actually very much in Russia’s interest — both because it would eliminate a significant source of instability in the region and because Armenian economic revival would promote economic growth throughout the region, which would help Russian economic interests in the Caucasus.

Hopefully, we will eventually see a new generation of Russian military analysts take over, with more nuanced positions on Russian security. In the meantime, I guess I’m glad that the ongoing Russian military reform has significantly reduced the old guard among the General Staff.