During his annual news conference, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the scenario Russia and the global community could face if things in the Middle East, especially in Iran, get out of hand.
Addressing what is certainly the most worrisome development on the global stage, Lavrov spoke at length on the standoff involving Iran, which faces deepening sanctions, as well as the threat of military attack, over its nuclear energy program.
The Russian Foreign Minister did not mince his words when he spoke about the “grave” consequences of a military strike against Iran.
"As for the chances that this disaster (a military attack against Iran) could occur, this question would be better addressed to those who keep mentioning this as an option that remains on the table,” Lavrov said in a comment apparently intended for Israel and the United States. “The consequences will be really grave, and we are seriously concerned about this.”
A possible military attack against Iran would trigger a huge migration of refugees, who would pour into Azerbaijan, possibly pushing up against the Russian border.
"This is one and perhaps not the main aspect of the problem,” Lavrov admitted. “This will not be an easy walk, and it's impossible to calculate all of the possible consequences."
Finally, an attack against Iran would also "pour oil on the…smoldering flames of the Sunni-Shiite confrontation," Lavrov said. "Then a chain reaction will begin, and I don't know where it will stop.”
The Foreign Minister told the conference that “unilateral sanctions” against the Islamic Republic could backfire by placing a “suffocating grip” on the national economy and its people.
"What Western states…have been adding as they adopt their additional unilateral sanctions against Iran has nothing in common with the desire to keep the nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime unshaken,” Lavrov warned at his Q&A press conference in Moscow. “This is seriously calculated to put a suffocating grip on the Iranian economy and on Iranian citizens, possibly in the hope of provoking discontent.”
The UN-backed sanctions regime against Iran over its nuclear energy program, which some Western countries suspect is a cover for a nuclear weapons program, threatens to hit at Iran’s central bank, as well as its oil exports to Europe. Lavrov says the effort to impose sanctions on Iran to influence its policies have been “exhausted.”
"This was so when the resolution on Iran was being negotiated 1.5 years ago,” he said. “After its adoption, all thinkable sanctions that could influence Iran in the nuclear field and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency were exhausted."
A more effective way of dealing with Iran would be to continue the negotiation process, he believes.
"We are calling for the six negotiators to continue their work,” Lavrov stressed. “Currently we have information that the Iranians are also prepared for this (the six-party talks). We are working with Iran.”
Although the way is clear for six-party talks – between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany – Lavrov alluded to Russia’s concern over “obstacles” that are thwarting the start of the negotiations.
"We are convinced that we now have an available opportunity to restart the talks between the Sextet and Iran,” he said. “And we are deeply concerned that these processes sometimes run up against obstacles.”
Addressing the heightened tensions in and around Iran, which recently threatened to impose a naval blockade on the Strait of Hormuz, a critical passageway for about 20 per cent of the world’s oil shipments, the foreign minister stressed that Russia objects to unilateral sanctions in international affairs, saying this undermines the UN Security Council's authority.
"Unilateral sanctions always undermine collective efforts, whether this concerns Iran, Syria, or any other situation," Lavrov said.
Russia opposes military intervention in Syria, proposing instead to launch an immediate internal national dialogue in this country without delay, Lavrov told journalists at his press conference.
"We insist that a political settlement is a must and we support the efforts which the monitoring mission of the Arab League have been making," the Foreign Minister said. "We think all manifestations of violence must cease in Syria, wherever they derive, and a national, all-inclusive dialogue must be launched.”
Meanwhile, Lavrov suggested that foreign governments could actually feign a humanitarian disaster in an effort to discredit the ruling authorities.
"There are other ideas that are being implemented in practice: sending so-called humanitarian convoys to Syria in the hope of provoking a reaction on the part of government forces and border guards, and feigning a humanitarian catastrophe," he said at a news conference in Moscow.
He also mentioned disturbing incidences of weapons infiltrating Syria for use by the opposition.
"It is also known, which no one has denied, that weapons are coming to Syria for militants and extremists to be used for seizing power," the head of Russian diplomacy said. "This is unacceptable and absolutely counterproductive, since this is only spurring the spiral of violence."
Finally, Lavrov said it would be “unacceptable” to attempt to apply the so-called “Libyan scenario” to resolve similar internal conflicts in other countries.
"We deem attempts to expand the so-called Libyan precedent to other conflicts absolutely unacceptable," he said.
Concerning Russia-US relations, the conversation turned to the issue of US missile defense in Europe, a subject that threatens not only to short-circuit the so-called reset, but even spark another arms race.
The Foreign Minister said he hopes the United States will take Russia's legitimate concerns into account over the thorny issue.
"We hope the US will finally hear our legitimate concerns, which we have been absolutely, specifically and professionally bringing to them, and take them into account,” Lavrov said. “And we hope that our partners will opt for concerted efforts to find agreed responses to modern challenges, which are common for both of us.”
Relations between the two former Cold War foes took a dramatic turn for the worse when Washington announced it was building a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, just miles from the Russian border, and without Russia’s assistance.
President Dmitry Medvedev warned the US and NATO on numerous occasions that Russia would be forced to respond in military language unless the two sides came to acceptable terms. Both sides continue to work on resolving the issue.
Russian foreign policy will not undergo significant changes following the presidential election in March 2012, Lavrov said.
“I think that our partners abroad have every reason to count on the continuity of our foreign policy in relation to the forthcoming presidential election in our country," the Foreign Minister said.
Lavrov stressed that the Kremlin’s foreign policy enjoyed “broad consensus” throughout Russian society.
"We estimate that there is broad consensus in our society in support of the basic guidelines of the foreign policy course that is set down in Russia's foreign policy concept," he said.
Lavrov outlined the key elements of Russia’s foreign policy, which includes “pragmatism and predictability of our foreign policy, its focus on protecting our national interests, the well-balanced multi-vector nature of our actions on the international stage with a view to … facilitating economic growth, solving social problems and in general securing the welfare of Russian citizens.”