Ukraine is not the only issue Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Vladimir Putin talked about in their three-hour meeting at the Kremlin on Saturday. Bennett’s main goal in the meeting was to make sure that by maintaining an almost-neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Israel secured Russia’s continued tolerance of its attacks on Iranian-sponsored forces and activities in Syria, He achieved this goal: the coordination with Russia in Syria will continue, and the attacks attributed to Israel on missile shipments and forces that Iran is directing against Israel will continue.
The other issue Bennett discussed with Putin on Saturday, according to Globes, was the emerging agreement with Iran. Israel is prepared to be disappointed by the Biden administration and especially the chief US negotiator Robert Malley, and won’t be surprised to see a repeat of the 2015 deal, if not worse – since Iran is much further ahead in its nuclear program. Bennett is trying to achieve through Moscow more restrictions on Iran on its way to a nuclear capability.
This is a seemingly impossible task, seeing as Russia has pushed a renewed agreement with Tehran, with which it has particularly good relations, including the sale of weapons, and providing assistance to its civilian nuclear program.
But Russia has no interest in Iran gaining a nuclear bomb, and Israel has been trying to persuade the Kremlin to introduce what the current administration has so far failed to do – real restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, close and effective supervision, and especially extending the sunset of the deal which otherwise ends in two and a half years.
And this weekend, Russia has done something unexpected to add confusion and delays to the Vienna talks, by demanding written US guarantees that the sanctions on Moscow because of the Ukrainian invasion would not include Russian cooperation with Iran.
According to Reuters, the Russian announcement could torpedo months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna, and it came shortly after Tehran had agreed to a roadmap for cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to resolve outstanding issues to help secure the nuclear deal.
An Iranian official told Reuters on Saturday that the new Russian demand was “not constructive.”
He added: “The Russians had put this demand on the table two days ago. There is an understanding that by changing its position in Vienna talks Russia wants to secure its interests in other places. This move is not constructive for the Vienna nuclear talks.”
Indeed, it looks as though the Russians are going to milk this one as hard as they can – using their crucial participation in the Iran talks to chip away at the widespread Western sanctions. Of course, the State Dept. issued a response insisting “the new Russia-related sanctions are unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on its potential implementation,” but who’s listening?
After all is said and done, how much of those three hours were devoted to Ukraine? The subject there was simple: Bennett was asking Putin to agree to humanitarian corridors, where 100,000 Ukrainian Jews could flee to Poland and Moldova. The rest of the time was about things of real importance.