Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and accelerating sanctions imposed by Washington and its imperialist rivals on Russia, are sending supplies of oil and gas spiraling downward. Prices at the pump and for home heating have skyrocketed, deepening the crisis facing working people.
The Ukraine war, and the way it has shaken up the perspectives, military plans and international relations of all major capitalist powers, has caused Washington to take a new look at its alliances and markets, including in relation to oil supplies.
Despite years of stifling U.S. strictures on Venezuelan oil sales, CNN reported March 8 that President Joseph Biden has sent representatives to Venezuela to discuss making it possible for the government of Nicolás Maduro to again sell oil freely on the world market — and to American gas companies. They are also pressing the regime in Saudi Arabia to ratchet up oil production.
The U.S. rulers are stepping up efforts for a new nuclear deal with Tehran that could open the door to new relations — and oil as well.
“Caracas, Riyadh and Tehran would have been unlikely sources of relief for a Biden-led Western alliance before the start of the war in Ukraine,” CNN noted. But in the wake of Biden’s order to ban all imports of Russian oil, gas and energy, and pressure for U.S. allies in Europe to follow suit, suddenly all options are on the table. It’s not guaranteed that any of these U.S. maneuvers will succeed.
Moscow has taken steps to place obstacles in Washington’s way. It intervened in the latest talks over resurrecting the 2015 U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, which were reporting new progress. Moscow demanded its trade with Iran be exempt from the harsh sanctions the Biden administration imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. Washington refused. In an unusual swipe at the government of Vladimir Putin, Tehran officials said, “Russia wants to secure its interests in other places” — meaning Ukraine. “This move is not constructive for Vienna nuclear talks.”
Moscow has two goals here. One is to prevent any possibility of Washington opening new relations and trade with Tehran at its expense. The other is to keep world oil prices sky high. This puts pressure on the U.S. rulers’ oil sanctions while at the same time bringing revenue to Russia’s rulers. The only world power quietly celebrating the wrench Moscow threw into the Tehran talks is Tel Aviv, which, with good reason, sees a new nuclear deal as a green light for Iran’s reactionary clerical rulers to rapidly build nuclear weapons capable of reaching Israel.
In fact, deal or no deal, Tehran is closer than ever to being able to threaten Israel with nuclear weapons.
Because of Moscow’s move, the talks, which involved the governments of China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S., are at a standstill.
Moscow was a key player in the 2015 agreement, and in current negotiations, because it has been responsible for storing Tehran’s “excess” stock of enriched uranium and providing it with lower-grade fuel for its nuclear reactors. The Russian government has also helped Tehran skirt U.S.-promoted sanctions. But in the wake of the war on Ukraine, Moscow redoubled its efforts to prevent Tehran and Washington moving toward improved relations.
Tehran expands reactionary rule
Workers and farmers in Iran have borne the brunt not only of U.S. sanctions, but also the deadly costs of the Iranian regime’s unending military adventures across the Middle East.
The bourgeois-clerical government originated in a counterrevolution against the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah. The revolution opened the door to deepening struggles by workers, farmers, women and oppressed nationalities, including the Kurds. Shoras developed — councils of working people in plants, oil fields and neighborhoods — that pointed in the direction of workers power.
The counterrevolution attacked and stifled these mighty advances. As this regime consolidated its rule, it expanded its reach further into the region. In the 1980s it defeated a U.S.-backed war by the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Then the Iranian rulers intervened in bloody wars shaking the region, establishing military bases and training militias in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, extending its influence throughout the region.
Although Tehran often claims its nuclear program is for “peaceful” purposes, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made clear that this is a necessary part of the government’s expansionist goals.
“Regional presence gives us strategic depth and more power,” Khamenei said in a speech to the Assembly of Experts March 10. “Why should we give it up? Scientific progress in the nuclear field is related to our future needs.” As part of their expansionist drive, Iran’s capitalist rulers helped establish and armed Hamas forces in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and militia forces in Syria and in Iraq.
In all these efforts, they advance their counterrevolutionary line. They have constantly threatened to destroy Israel, a refuge and homeland for Jews.
Israel’s capitalist rulers take Iran’s expansion and nuclear threats seriously. Since July 2020 Israeli spy agency Mossad “has reportedly blown up all or part of three or more Iranian nuclear facilities and assassinated lead nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,” the March 10 Jerusalem Post noted. “Yet the ayatollahs still found ways to get enough enriched uranium,” the paper complained.
All of this complicates Washington’s maneuvering room as Moscow’s Ukraine war unfolds.