Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Catching up on Syria

I was watching open source media this past weekend and read a report where Turkish F-16’s were scrambled to shoot down a Syrian warplane that had violated its airspace. For Turkey being a member of NATO definitely has it’s advantages but this situation isn’t one of them. You can bet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan is probably sick of fielding calls from the United States and the rest of NATO urging him to have restraint. Even though Turkey may want to, the repercussions of overt military action against the Syrian regime would be too dangerous.
If Ankara wanted to they could “shock and awe” Damascus into submission in probably a little under 48 hours. Turkey has one of the most capable militaries in the entire region. They’re on the same level as countries like France, Germany, and Russia. And this is exactly what Turkey wants to do. Toppling a brutal dictator like Assad would solidify Turkey as the leader of the Islamic world. Something Ankara gave up after WW1 when the Ottoman Empire fell. It’s really hard not to see them reclaim that birthright. They’ve just been distracted by the fallout of two world wars.
The one thing holding Turkey back is their NATO membership. If Turkey attacks the Syrian national army on Syrian soil how long before Iran counter attacks? How long before Russia jumps in? Turkey would claim NATO article 5 the moment Iran or Russia stepped in and that would bring in the rest of the world.
So we’re left with a war in Syria fought covertly. It’s a war that multiple nations are fighting but no one can admit it publicly. So many countries have covert stakes invested in this war that it’s confusing to realize whose side they’re on and what they ultimately want. It’s no wonder the rebels are so splintered and chaotic. They’re getting pulled in multiple directions by multiple actors.
Here is a quick breakdown of the players. This is just a glance and I’m leaving a lot out but even in summary it gets confusing.
For Syria and Assad -
Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. The Iranian/Hezbollah alliance is obvious and easy to understand. Syria has been an ally of Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979. They’ve been tight ever since.
Iran saw an opening after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Iran saw the possibility for a sphere of influence from Tehran, through Baghdad, all the way to Damascus. That’s been their geopolitical play for the past decade.
Russia’s dog in this fight is a little murkier. Russia has the obvious interest in their long time naval port at Tartus, but you have to read between the lines to see their real interests. Symbolically their support for Assad shows Russia’s periphery and even their own people that populist uprisings can be managed/crushed by a determined government. This has so far worked in Syria but not so much in Ukraine. They also want to slow the construction of natural gas pipelines from the southern gas corridor up into Western Europe. Two proposed pipelines may eventually run straight through Syria, through Turkey, then on into Europe. Restricting natural gas diversification in western Europe is one of Moscow’s main strategic goals in this decade and through the next half century.
For the rebels -
Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the rest of the west.
Turkey is poised to take over as the leader of the Islamic World once again.
  • They successfully maintained good ties with the west but at the same time oriented themselves toward the middle east.
  • They’ve re-established relations with Iran and have been a go between/mediator for the Arab nations and for the west/middle east as well.
  • Turkey controls the upper courses of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which is the main source of water to most of the Arab world.
  • Ever since the Ottoman Empire Turkey has been able to balance their political system with Islam. They’ve carried that over to present day and they’re the best chance to lead the “democratic Islam” experiment that the Arab Spring kicked off.
Turkey has lately taken a less aggressive and overt tone but they’re still major players. Much of the weapons, soldiers, and aid come across Turkish border crossings. It’s interesting to note how the current political problems and social unrest have forced Ankara to put their Syrian agenda on the back burner. In fact many of the recent protest areas have come from Kurdish dominated neighborhoods. Both Syria and Iran have used the Kurdish card in the past to cause internal problems in Turkey. Something to keep an eye on.
Now here’s where it gets even more confusing. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar desire the same outcome. The ultimate defeat of Bashar al-Assad. They also both support rebel groups that are fighting Assad’s regime. However, they both disagree with whom should ultimately control Syria. Qatar and Turkey favor a Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syria and are thus funding/supplying those groups. Saudi Arabia fears the Brotherhood and is funding/supplying alternate Salafi groups that SA could control in the long run.
No one hears much about the Free Syria Army (FSA) anymore. Just a couple years ago they were the largest and most effective rebel collective in the conflict. However, the West and the Muslim Brotherhood were too overt in their support. This had the effect of alienating the hard liners. Groups such as al-Nusra and ISIS used this as a rallying call to recruit thousands to their banners further splintering the rebel ranks.
After the FSA fallout and the rise of al-Nusra and ISIS Saudi Arabia began funding alternate groups to combat the radicals. The result was a group called the Islam Army. The problem was that they were running into some of the same problems that the FSA did. Alienating the hard liners.
Qatar stepped back in and formed an alliance called the Islamic Front that incorporated the Islam Army into their ranks. The current members are:
  • The Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement
  • The Kurdish Islamic Front
  • The Islam Army
  • The Ansar al-Sham Battalions
  • The Haq Brigade
  • The Tawhid Brigade
  • The Suqour al-Sham Brigades
This alliance is currently the most effective and numerous rebel fighting force in Syria. It  incorporates both hard line radical groups and moderates. Rather than supporting them outright and overtly the current benefactors are attempting to remain hidden.
The tug of war match between Qatar/Turkey and Saudi Arabia has severely crippled the rebel campaign. It has effectively deadlocked the war. The Syrian regime makes gains then the rebels make gains. It’s constantly shifting. The Syrian army is well funded/supplied but is too spread thin. The rebels are meagerly funded/supplied but have effectively opened up enough fronts in the war that Assad can’t fight all at once.
The question has come down to who can last the longest. It’s a lose lose whichever way you look at it. If Assad wins then he’ll be seen as a brutal dictator that was successful in oppressing his people. If the rebels win they’ll inherit a country ripe with extremists. It’ll take the combined effort of the entire Islamic world to guide Syria’s future. My guess is it’ll be a Qatari funded but Turkish led Syrian democracy.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What's Russia's next move? - Inside the mind of Putin

I’ve been reading through open source media today and I’ve been both amused and irate at the same time. The top story lines all over the world are dominated by what Russia is going to do next.
One “expert” will claim that Vladimir Putin is on a roll and announcing Russia’s return to power by re-establishing the Soviet Union one annexation at a time. Another “expert” will claim that this is the most tense it’s been seen the end of the Cold War. All of this is meant to instil fear and anxiety in an attempt to drive up ratings.

I can guarantee one thing. Putin is not stupid. He’s not brash, he’s not rogue, he’s not a cowboy. He’s playing geopolitics in an intensely competitive area.

In order to understand the method to Putin’s actions we need to understand where he’s coming from. What’s going on in his mind? The famous Austrian born geopolitical analyst Robert Strausz Hupe said,

“Global war has revealed continents and oceans to be parts of one closely meshed world political design.”

“War has brought home to us an awareness of geographic realities.”
“We must closely consider geography as a primary motivating factor that drives foreign policy.”
Strausz Hupe was trying to warn and educate the world on how the Nazis were motivated and basing their land grabs during WW2. He wanted to show the world how German Geopolitik worked so that the Allies could use it against them and predict their moves.
Strausz Hupe further defines geopolitics as the adaptation of political geography to political ideology. The concept of space, politically dominated space. The struggle for space and power.
What was true for the Czars and the Soviets remains true for the present day Russians. The nation of Russia lies in a vulnerable location on the map. It lies in the middle between the strong far eastern nations and western Europe. It requires space and more space as a buffer. The German historian Oswald Spengler once said, “Distance is a force politically and militarily as yet unconquered.” When looking to invade Russia both Napoleon and Hitler succomed to the vastness of Russia’s buffer zone.
Putin realizes the pitfalls of a nation with such a vast amount of space that Russia inhabits. It’s a behemoth of a country. Most of that area is uninhabitable but still overwhelmingly large. The land the Soviet Union dominated was even larger. A vast amount of space and an economy unable to support it collapsed the Soviet Union. In Vladimir Putin’s eyes it was the “geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.
So what is Putin thinking? Putin’s religion isn’t eastern orthodox. It’s geopolitics. Karl Ritter once wrote in Comparative Geography, "There will come a time when strong-minded humans, by their understanding of the moral and natural aspects of the world, will be able to foresee and guide the future developments of each nation on earth." To predict Putin’s next moves we need to use what Strausz Hupe called "The geopolitical method of observation".
Putin realizes as every geopolitical analyst does that Russia requires defense in depth to secure Moscow. Having NATO and the EU within striking distance of the capitol is unacceptable. However, Moscow can’t make the mistakes the Soviet Union did. The size of Russia is already too large. It has ethnic instability in the south, a growing Islamic threat, and political instability in Moscow herself. Rapidly annexing the former Soviet bloc would compound these problems not make them better.
Moscow has two main weapons to influence and control her periphery. Energy exports and ethnic nationalism.  
Russia’s energy grip on Western Europe has been well documented. The political implications of this is obvious. The only counter to Russia’s advantage here is with energy diversification. I think this will happen over time. You can bet that the fleeting nature of this advantage is not lost on Vladimir Putin. However, it’s important to note the geopolitical mindset of the Russians in leveraging this advantage over the past few decades.
The British geopolitician James Fairgrieve pointed out that
“imperialists through history have been driven by the search for energy. The political center of the world usually shifts toward which source of energy is relevant at the time.”
The Soviets saw the relevance in natural gas and built the pipelines into Western Europe. Ronald Reagan of course disputed this. If Western Europe would have looked at this move through the glasses of Strausz Hupe’s “geopolitical method of observation" they would have seen this for what it was intended. A tool for control.
Ethnic Nationalism
Putin has used this lever as a pressure point on his periphery since 2008. We basically green lit him to enact this foreign policy when Kosovo split from Serbia. Putin mentioned just that in a recent speech on Crimea,
“a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands. When they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities.”

Moscow was too weak at the time to effect the situation. The west knew that, didn’t care what Russia’s stance was, and supported the secession. If Russia had been stronger we probably would have seen the Georgian invasion sooner rather than later.

Putin is taking advantage of the heavy Russification of the former Soviet bloc. He has the advantage of the threat of annexation of territory based on a high percentage of ethnic Russians in her periphery.
Again, straight out of the book of the founding geopolitical minds of the 20th century. Robert Strausz Hupe warned that nations such as Nazi Germany could use alternative methods of attack that wouldn’t involve tanks and troops. He called it “Passive population attack”. The Soviets set this up in the 60’s-80’s by government directed migration. Ethnic Russians poured into places such as Kazakhstan (today they are 25% ethnic Russian), Abkhazia (Georgia), South Ossetia (Georgia), Crimea (Ukraine), Donetsk (Ukraine), Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan) and Transnistria (Moldova). Strausz Hupe warned that a geopolitically minded aggressive nation “would use population pressure to justify territorial expansion”. Hupe goes on to describe this as “Trojan-Horse methods - The slow and peaceful penetration of a nation to induce strife.”

So what is Putin’s next move?

Putin is using geopolitics to guide his foreign policy. He see’s security in space...politically dominated space. To do that he has to be careful not to make the mistakes of Soviets past.

His history shows us that his main tool to control his periphery is economic. His first move has always been to impose trade sanctions and use his energy monopoly to force countries into submission. Those that fall fully under his wing he adopts into his Customs Union.

For nations that don’t fully submit Putin’s goal is to keep them as neutral as possible. This was the plan for Ukraine. It was either a mistake by Yanukovich or a misstep by Putin. At any rate when Yanukovich made it so blatantly obvious who’s side he was on he tipped the balance. The last time this happened Putin invaded Georgia to “protect the ethnic Russian’s” in South Ossetia. Ukraine is Russia’s crown jewel. In my opinion the Georgian invasion was a warning to Ukraine that if they proceeded down that path the same would happen to her.

The Crimean invasion of 2014 wasn’t an offensive was defensive. Moscow had lost their crown jewel. Ukraine was no longer neutral. Putin had no choice but to pull that ethnic lever one more time as a warning to his periphery that the only option from full on submission is neutrality.

The problem with playing the ethnic nationalism card too often is that it unites other ethnicities against you. Invading Crimea infuriates ethnic Ukrainians. Invade Transnistria and infuriate greater Moldova. Fully invade and annex South Ossetia and make eternal enemies out of Georgia. These are nations that won’t fully submit. Putin must make them neutral...not enemies. Fascism begets fascism. And that is the ultimate worst case scenario here.

Putin will stop at Crimea. Ethnic nationalism is much more valuable as a threat than an actual weapon. It’s a means of control. Again, as Strausz Hupe described Trojan Horse Methods, the use of population pressure is supposed to be a slow process. Not an abrupt tool. He doesn’t need enemies based off of ethnic hatred ready to raise the NATO flag a couple hours drive from Moscow. He’ll let this latest development stew in the minds of the countries around him. It’ll bide him time to make them neutral and will then attempt to re-establish economic control.

What should the West/U.S. response be?

The United States has a much different outlook on this than the EU. We have interest in very little when it comes to Ukraine. It’s not strategically important to America. Our only interest revolves around the control of Eurasia proper. That’s what brought us into two world wars to begin with.
The U.S. has strategic interest in ensuring no one entity has too much control and power in that area. That means ensuring a strong Western Europe, helping to build Central Europe, and even a strong stable Russia. The U.S. ultimately wants Ukraine either neutral or a part of a Central European alliance...not necessarily EU.
Balance of power is the goal. The U.S. (if their following geopolitics) should focus on strengthening and supporting the Visegrad Group in Central Europe. They represent the Czech Republic,Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. America will use Ukraine as a distraction gently pulling just enough to keep Moscow’s attention. At the same time they’ll put resources into strengthening Visegrad. That would be more of an adequate response to Moscow and much more covertly threatening.

The EU has more of a strategic interest in Ukraine. The obvious is that the’re a lot closer to the action than the U.S. is. They’re also in the middle of economic turmoil and adding the second largest European country to their ranks provides a huge target for the German manufacturing machine.

Putin is playing geopolitics. And just as Strausz Hupe hoped to wake up the West to this game the Nazis were playing, we need to hope our world leaders today get that same wake up call. Be careful what you believe in the media. Most of it is used to drive ratings. The reality is that much more is going on under the surface. Zbigniew Brzezinski called the Eurasian continent “The Grand Chessboard”. Putin is playing the game. Moves and countermoves.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Putin/Moscow - Forced into playing the Crimea card

I feel compelled to attach a disclaimer to this post this morning. I'm writing via a mobile device. My grammatical and spelling errors will be even more pronounced than usual.

Speaking of compulsion, I feel I absolutely need to address the western medias love affair with Vladimir Putin. Especially his action on Ukraine and the Crimea situation. Every time I search through open source media the headlines all say the same thing. Typically how Putin had out smarted or out maneuvered the EU and the United States.

I'll put it as bluntly as I can: This was a huge LOSS for Moscow.

The lessons from the Cold War haven't been forgotten. The Soviet Union was too spread out, responsible for too much territory, and its military too spread thin. Occupying such a large amount of space both politically and militarily taxes your economy beyond it's capability. The Soviet Union needed all that space as a buffer to the west but occupation wasn't the answer.

Ever since Putin came to power he's been slowly trying to bring Russia back to it's former glory. Where as the Russia of old dominated with their superior army Putin has chosen a different approach. His weapons are economic and demographic. Russia has slowly became relevant again by bullying their periphery with energy and economic restrictions that force them into their trade and military unions. What happens if anyone resists their economic/energy strong arm? Moscow stokes the ethnic flames of the millions of ethnic Russians that are spread out all over Russia's periphery. The fruits of russification during the Soviet era.

The overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych's government in Ukraine was a huge loss to Moscow. Putin's goal has always been to keep Ukraine neutral. The Maidan protests in a matter of weeks completely destroyed a decade of work Putin had invested into Ukraine. Crimea was Moscow's only card they had to play. It was a retaliatory move that showed how desperate Putin was. He was now on the defensive in his periphery for the first time in a long time.

Putin does not want a foreign policy of annexation. The more land he's responsible for the closer he gets to the mistakes of old. Nations with a high percentage of ethnic Russians are far more valuable to use as a threat than an actual weapon. With them he was able to coerce Ukraine into neutrality even with a heavily EU dominated western half. With them he was able to slow down Georgia's strides towards NATO.

Stoking ethnic flames is dangerous. Putin won't continue this beyond Crimea...unless he's forced to. It's always been his last option when all else has failed. Every time he plays this card he risks uniting the rest of that country even stronger than before against him. In fact if I'm Putin I'm telling ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine to calm down. Don't get too crazy. Your more dangerous as leverage...not as a first strike weapon. The more states that break from Ukraine the stronger Kiev's stance against Moscow will get. The goal is neutrality. He's not looking for a strong enemy right on his most vulnerable flank.

So Putin has won Crimea but lost Ukraine. This is a gigantic win for the west and a tremendous loss for Russia. Putin now has to go on the offensive, so expect things to happen. He'll counter U.S. strategic goals with Iran and China. I may not agree with the current administration's foreign policy methods, but their eventual goal of disengagement with  strong regional counter balances is still on track.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Ukrainian Spring - We've learned nothing

Lately I’ve been poring over official statements from the U.S. State Department in an attempt to figure out what their play in Ukraine is. The more I try and see a clever strategy at work the more disappointed I get. I keep going back to a speech Secretary of State John Kerry gave on March 3rd from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.

It really couldn’t be any more clear after listening to that speech. The U.S. intends to encourage and straight up support populist movements and uprisings. Quite possibly to the detriment to the nations involved and their peripheries as well.

Mr Kerry first set the stage by attaching a strong emotional bond with the listeners in an attempt to reel them in. Such a common tactic used in American politics today. Kerry wanted to show them what to be afraid of, who was to blame for it, and that he shared in their pain.

“Let me say, first of all, how incredibly moving it was to walk down Institutska Street”

“ It was really quite remarkable, I have to tell you, to see the barricades, see the tires, see the barbed wire, see the bullet holes in street lamps, the extraordinary number of flowers, the people still standing beside a barrel with a fire to keep them warm, the shrouded vision in the clouds and the fog of the buildings from which the shots came, and the pictures, the photographs, of those who lost their lives, of the people who put themselves on the line for the future of Ukraine.”

It was deeply moving to walk into a group of Ukrainians spontaneously gathered there and to listen to them, to listen to their pleas of passion for the right not to go back to life as it was under former president Yanukovych.”

“One woman who pleadingly said how poor they were, how the rich lived well, and how those in power took the money, and how they were left behind.”

So it was very moving, and it gave me a deep, personal sense of how closely linked the people of Ukraine are to not just Americans, but to people all across the world who today are asking for their rights, asking for the privilege to be able to live, defining their own nation, defining their futures.  That’s what this is about.”

Really? How many times did he say he was moved? That last quote was meant to resonate to those on the front lines of the protest groups in not only Ukraine but throughout the entire region and throughout the world.
“but to people all across the world who today are asking for their rights, asking for the privilege to be able to live, defining their own nation, defining their futures.  That’s what this is about.”
It’s a call for populist movements to continue their uprisings. What a complete lack of leadership from the U.S. State Department. Rather than providing support we’re advocating anarchy.

These brave Ukrainians took to the streets in order to stand peacefully against tyranny and to demand democracy.”

“They raised their voices for dignity and for freedom.  But what they stood for so bravely, I say with full conviction, will never be stolen by bullets or by invasions.  It cannot be silenced by thugs from rooftops.  It is universal, it’s unmistakable, and it’s called freedom.”

“Ukrainians are demanding a government with the consent of the people.”

“we’ve watched with extraordinary awe the power of individuals unarmed except with ideas, people with beliefs and principles and values who have reached for freedom, for equality, for opportunity.  There’s nothing more important in this world.  That is what drives change in so many parts of the world today.”


Have we learned nothing from the Arab Spring?

(NED President Carl Gershman Presents an award to an Arab Spring leader in Tunisia)

Have we learned nothing from the situation in Iraq, Syria, etc? We can’t force democracy on nations that aren’t ready for it. Since when did democracy equal morality? Forcing democracy prematurely on an area that has been oppressed by an authoritarian regime can have dangerous consequences. Will the citizens react in a moral way or will populism steer them in an evil and dangerous direction?

W.H. Auden once said on Epitaph on a Tyrant, When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.”

What happens when populist movements upend these brutal regimes without letting the citizens take care of it themselves on their own timeline? When they’re actually ready for it.

W.H. Auden had an answer in one of his poems:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”

John Kerry and the U.S. State Department are using organizations like Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy to influence the populations of sovereign nations.NED_logo.jpeg82px-Freedom_House_logo.svg.png
These NGO’s act like CIA substations in countries where the poor social status’ of the middle class can be manipulated to overthrow governments.

The State Department’s gamble is that hopefully these populist uprisings will produce the American Revolution. How can we be so certain they won’t produce the French Revolution instead? Democracy is an advanced form of government and carries with it an advanced form of citizenship. Our foreign policy right now is dangerous and irresponsible.

Today, the far right group Right Sector killed two ethnic Russians and wounded several others in a shootout in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. With the U.S. government pushing the French Revolution and the Russian Government encouraging fascism we’re in for some dark times ahead.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

MH370 - Chinese misinformation

Just a quick update as I read the recent news on MH370...and as follow up to yesterday's blog post.

Yesterday the Chinese government released imagery of what they said could have been wreckage from MH370. 

The imagery of the "supposed wreckage" was found on Sunday. That's one day after the flight disappeared. So why did they choose to hold on to that information until Wednesday?!
Rescue and salvage crews raced out to the location and found...nothing. Some reports now claim the image was nothing more than two boats tied to each other. All information in a rescue operation is extremely and critically time sensitive. China decided that it could wait 3 days. It almost looks like they're intentionally confusing the rescue operation...

As I mentioned yesterday, Tracking misinformation often times leads one to the truth easier than tracking murky details.

The Russian and Iranian "friendship"

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh arrived in Moscow today for a meeting with Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. The purpose of the meeting is primarily to “discuss ways of deepening and promoting mutual economic cooperation”.

Most people would look at this and think that Russia and Iran were cozying up to each other even more than they are now. Especially in the wake of the geopolitical shifts currently taking place in Eastern Europe. It’s easy to look at these meetings and think that. Especially if you’re basing your opinion on old and outdated geopolitics.

I believe Russia and Iran are nearing the end of the relationship they’ve forged over the past few decades. The relationship was based on a mutual understanding of one single principle. The opposition of United States economic and military domination in their regions of influence. However, that all changed when the United States took steps toward rapprochement with Iran. In doing that Iran and the U.S. effectively cut Russia out of the discussions and began a new relationship...rocky as it may be at the moment.

You see, the United States sees value in strong regional counters. A strong Iran can battle sunni insurgents in Syria, help stabilize Iraq, check Saudi influence, and provide energy diversification all across the World Island. The arguments that have been clung to for the past few decades are meaningless today as the geopolitical situation shifts. Don’t be surprised to see the President of the United States shaking hands with the President of Iran. We’ve seen similar developments in the past. Alliances that you thought were inconceivable were made possible in an attempt to achieve regional balance. Remember FDR and Stalin? Nixon and Mao?


We’re now at a new phase in United States foreign policy. The alliances of the past will slowly be pivoted away from. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and even Israel will find themselves on uneasy ground. That’s not to say the U.S. will be hostile to these nations. Just...disengaged.

Without a mutual desire to oppose the U.S. Russia and Iran have absolutely no reason to be allied to each other. Their future strategic goals run straight into each other. They collide like two Siberian freight trains. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict the future here. Russia’s main cash crop is...natural gas. Iran’s path to economic stability is...natural gas.
Russia currently holds the monopoly on natural gas into western europe and they’ve been fighting alternative pipelines from the southern gas corridor for sometime. What happens when Iran can put their weight and gas into these pipelines?


Completely dwarfing western Europe’s demand for natural gas is the combined market of India (with 1.3 billion people) and China (with 1.4 billion people). Russia has already made moves to diversify away from western europe. You can bet your hat that they see Iran doing the same. It’s a race to see who can make the agreements and build the pipelines. The casual friends of today will become major strategic competitors within 10-20 years.
Iranian sanctions are all that stands in the way.

A large part of the ongoing meetings between the Iranian and Russian energy ministers will likely touch upon their future relationship. Can they coexist friendly? They can do so currently but time is definitely running out. The cordial manner of these meetings today will no doubt not be so in the future.