Freezing the Ukraine crisis temporarily seems to be the only way to avoid a military confrontation between Russia and Nato. This would amount to stalling for time until comprehensive security arrangements vis-a-vis Europe can be formulated and Moscow can reach a broader agreement with the US-led security umbrella.

This seems to be the logic as Russian and American diplomats work behind the scenes while maintaining their respective threats of military action and sanctions. Reaching an agreement on the Ukraine question, specifically its desired membership of Nato, remains a challenge and perhaps even out of the question at this stage.

Amid tensions in Eastern Europe, Russia is deepening its relations with Iran, possibly with the intention of using the regime in Tehran as a means to pressure the West in various ways.

Indeed, it is possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin felt compelled to host his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, last week – despite the ongoing crisis in Europe. Tehran, it is said, was keen to hold the meeting. True or not, the visit marked a milestone in Russian-Iranian relations. The two sides essentially agreed to take a strategic leap in their alliance and collaborate at all levels. As such, Russia will become a partner of the so-called Islamic Republic through a permanent, sustained and long-term procedural mechanism agreed upon by the two leaders.

The countries, it seems, have also resolved to co-ordinate their respective objectives in Syria, where both sides maintain close relations with the Assad regime. They are likely to jointly stand up to Israel, with whom Iran and Syria both maintain adversarial relations. Israel, which has a longstanding border dispute with Syria, has been conducting its own covert military operations against Iranian proxies on the ground. But these operations may also have inconvenienced Russia’s military objectives in the country – although Moscow is unlikely to immediately act on Israel’s activities, given its current focus on the Ukraine crisis.

The Russians, however, have to thread a fine needle in the Middle East at the moment. Tehran’s expansionist ambitions in the region are likely to pose major headaches for those running Kremlin, given its budding relations with the Gulf countries with whom Iran has been at odds for decades. One of the many sources of friction is the ongoing civil war in Yemen, where the Gulf countries back the internationally recognised government while Tehran supports the Houthi rebel group.

The Moscow meeting took place just days after a drone attack on Abu Dhabi that the Houthis claimed responsibility for killed three people and injured six others. Whether the drones used in this attack were supplied by Iran remains unclear. And while it is believed that Yemen was not discussed in detail, I am given to understand that the hosts described the attack on the UAE as a “destabilising” development.

The US hasn’t appeared any firmer than Russia has on the attack. The two countries may be at odds with each other over various issues, but they currently appear to prioritise improving relations with Tehran. For Russia, it’s about improving strategic ties. For the US, it’s about securing a nuclear deal, for which talks are ongoing in Vienna.

Of course, Washington has vowed to hold the Houthis accountable for the Abu Dhabi attack, but the Biden administration is divided on what action to take. US President Joe Biden is considering redesignating the militia as a terror group only a year after taking it off America’s terror list, but those within the administration opposing such a move insist that resolving the Yemen crisis requires including both sides in the peace process.

The reality, however, is that the Biden administration has effectively tied the hands of its Yemen envoy, Tim Lenderking, on account of these internal divisions. Yet, it is clear that imposing sanctions on the Houthis is a necessary step to coerce them into agreeing to the US-UN-Gulf proposal that, by the way, accepts them as a party to the peace process and in a future government formed through negotiations.

The Houthis have a choice. Either submit to the pressure being exerted by the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah to reject the peace plan, and thereby invite sanctions and the terror redesignation; or break free of these pressures and join the peace process. This would give it the right to participate in government with Gulf – and international – recognition, which will eventually end Yemen’s tragedy through a project to rescue its people and rebuild its infrastructure.

It won’t be easy for the Houthis to disentangle themselves from the Iranian agenda.

The Biden administration, meanwhile, needs to act tougher with Iran as well. Its priority may be securing a new and improved nuclear deal with Tehran. But it must understand that the regime is capitalising on Washington’s anxiety over the fate of the nuclear negotiations. It must also realise that it may end up damaging its own relations with Arab countries by appearing weak against the Iranians over a number of issues, not least their expansionist policies across the Middle East.

Moscow’s deepening ties with Tehran, in the face of American uncertainty, could well be part of what is appearing to be the expansion of an anti-US coalition that also includes China. And the Iranian regime will undoubtedly attempt to showcase its skills in service of this coalition by expanding its operations around the globe, from faraway Venezuela and the Caribbean to the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Indeed, there is an opportunity for the regime to engage in a militarised duel in what could become an era of militarised diplomacy. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Iran’s de facto rulers – are mobilised and ready for this purpose.

Even with this grim scenario in the making, could Russia and the West, for the sake of peace and stability, find common ground in Eastern Europe? There are signs that such an outcome is still possible, including in the form of Mr Biden’s carefully nuanced statements on the crisis in recent days. One can only hope for the best.

Source » thenationalnews