Moscow (CNSNews.com) – A war between the United States and Iran would be a “disaster” for the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
He also pushed back against reports suggesting that Russia might support U.S. proposals to limit Iranian influence in Syria, where Moscow and Tehran both intervened militarily to support the Assad regime during the drawn-out civil war,
Putin’s comments came during his “Direct Line” television marathon, an annual event during which the Russian leader fields questions from ordinary Russians for several hours. The Kremlin said at the outset it had received more than 1.5 million questions, submitted by phone, text message, and via websites.
One question submitted via a Russian social media website asked, “Will there be a war between America and Iran, and what will Russia do?”
In response, Putin warned about the consequences of a conflict, but did not indicate whether Russia would offer support to Tehran in such a scenario.
“I want to say at once that it would be a disaster for the region at a minimum, because it would lead to a surge in violence and, perhaps, an increase, by the way, in the number of refugees from the region,” he said.
“But I think that for those who would have made attempts of this kind, it would also have, perhaps, sad consequences. Because it is very difficult to figure out what will happen if military force is used, it is very difficult to calculate.”
Putin asserted that the religious nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran would make it a formidable opponent.
“Iran is a Shi’ite country, and even in the Islamic world they consider it to be people who are capable of extremes if they need to come to their own defense, the defense of their country,” he stated. “And it is difficult to say what these extremes will result in – nobody knows.”
Tensions between the United States and Iran have increased over the past month. The United States has accused Iran of being behind recent attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, and on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a U.S. surveillance drone over the Gulf of Oman.
Some senior Republican lawmakers have called for a military response should Iran take any further such actions.
“My red line is, if there’s any more disruption of shipping in the [Strait] of Hormuz linked to Iran, take out their navy, bomb their refineries,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News’ “Special Report” on Wednesday.
Iran is expected to be a major item on the agenda for a U.S.-Israel-Russia summit on Syria next Monday. National Security Advisor John Bolton will be meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Jerusalem.
Bolton and Ben-Shabbat will attempt to persuade Patrushev to support curtailing Tehran’s military presence in Syria, according to an unnamed U.S. official cited by Reuters,
While Russia and Iran are nominally partners in Syria, signs of divergence have emerged recently.
Chatham House in a March research paper concluded that with the Syrian civil war winding down, Moscow and Tehran are now competing “over access to the Syrian economy, with a particular focus on opportunities to obtain reconstruction contracts.”
Another point of contention is political influence in post-war Syria.
Kirill Semenov, a Russian Middle East analyst, wrote in Al Monitor earlier this month that Russia is uncomfortable with Iran’s sway over the Syrian security apparatus and would like Damascus to reform the Syrian armed forces in a way that would reduce Tehran’s leverage.
Asked by one of the Russian journalists moderating the program about the prospect of U.S.-Russian deal on Syria, Putin rejected the notion that Moscow would accept any agreement targeting Iran.
“We do not trade either our allies, our interests, or our principles,” he said. On the other hand, “we can negotiate with our partners about solving some pressing problems.”