A perceived Iranian nuclear threat to the West is becoming a valuable bargaining chip for Russia in its relations with the United States.
International media reported last week that the Obama Administration sent the Kremlin a secret offer to give up the U.S.-led effort to deploy missile shield elements in Poland and the Czech Republic if Russia does not help Iran pursue nuclear weapons and long-range missile capability. After a less-than-enthusiastic response to the reports from the Kremlin, President Obama later denied making a quid pro quo offer.
The Kremlin displayed little enthusiasm because it wants greater concessions from the White House. Consider the following:
•The Kremlin realizes that the Iranian threat is as big a challenge to Mr. Obama as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, second only to the recession.
•While its military experts realize that the missile shield in Europe would present no threat to Russia, the Kremlin for political reasons pretends it would. The United States is simply too useful as a scapegoat in the face of growing popular discontent over the economic crisis for Russia.
•The economic crisis in Russia aggravates the Kremlin's paranoia about any opposition - a malady that has developed since peaceful revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia ended the Kremlin's control of the former vassal states several years ago.
•The United States continues its moral, political, and economic support of new democracies in the formerly Russian-controlled states, including Ukraine and Georgia.
Do the math and you will see that the Kremlin does not want the United States to interrupt its missile shield project in Europe any more than it wants Russian television to stop telling Russians that America is pointing missiles at them.
Second, the Kremlin would not give up that comfortable position unless the Obama Administration suggests something really valuable - like promising to look the other way while Russia uses its energy resources and its military to subjugate its former vassal states.
Moreover, the Kremlin feels it needs to feed the anti-U.S. hysteria in order to continue its policy of nationalism and expansionism that is behind such recent actions as cutting energy supplies to Ukraine and launching military raids into Georgia.
It's notable that both initiatives were perceived in Russia as proxy wars against the United States.
This is why Mr. Obama's peaceful overtures are unacceptable to the Kremlin. Though it would not officially denounce them, the Kremlin is certain to downplay them without losing face.
Furthermore, the Obama Administration may want to watch for offensive, spoilsport actions on the part of the Kremlin, such as an even deeper involvement with Iran.
Unless the Kremlin overplays its hand, such actions would benefit it regardless of the American response. They would either head off any future advances from the Obama Administration or - even better - up the ante.