We are on the eve of a World War fought with sanctions, which is perhaps only a prelude to a wider conflict: economic, energy and military. This is the situation that the Trump administration wanted when it exited the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, a situation which is now involving the European states directly.
The European states have passed sanctions on certain allies of Iran, such as Syria under Assad, but at the same time, they would like to maintain their relationship with the Islamic Republic. The contradictions don’t end there. Trump’s sanction-happy policies could soon take aim at China and Russia as well, which have close commercial ties with both Tehran and Europe.
Beijing is still importing Iranian oil, despite the expiration of the six-month exemption granted by the Americans to eight countries—a period during which, despite Italy being on the list, ENI refused to buy even one drop of Iranian oil. This is because our “sovereignists” have bowed down before the real “Sovereign” (i.e. the US) and have fallen in lockstep behind Washington, as Salvini’s visit to Washington seemed to show.
Putin came to Italy not so much to make new deals or circumvent the EU sanctions on account of Ukraine, but rather to make sure that Italy won’t cut down on its purchases of Russian gas due to the increased US pressure on Europe.
The fact that the tension is rising is demonstrated by the seizure near Gibraltar of an oil tanker carrying Iranian crude and apparently heading to the Syrian port of Tartous, by 30 British soldiers acting under instructions from the US.
Of course, this is not the first time that the British have acted as the muscle enforcing US sanctions: the Italian companies who have relations with Tehran know this all too well. Iran is now threatening retaliation, while US National Security Secretary John Bolton called the event “excellent news.” One cannot help but note this is the first time any ship has been seized, even though the Syrian war has been ongoing for eight years.
There’s nothing that can be called “excellent” about this situation: we are moving toward a period of high tension and thorny diplomatic issues. It’s US “creative chaos” redux, which has destabilized the Middle East once again. Meanwhile, Sunday was the end of the 60-day deadline given by Iran to its European partners to comply with the terms of the nuclear deal they made with Tehran.
The Islamic Republic had announced that if the Europeans don’t comply with the terms of the deal by this deadline, it would go on to enrich its uranium to 5%, above the level agreed upon in the deal (3.67%). However, if Europe were to manage to get the INSTEX system operational, aimed at circumventing the US sanctions, the Iranian ambassador in Rome, Hamid Bayat, said that Iran was ready to backtrack and give up on uranium enrichment.
Iran has no intention to leave the nuclear deal like the United States did under Trump, but if nothing is done to circumvent the sanctions, the agreement—according to Bayat—could be on a path to automatic disintegration.
Furthermore, the INSTEX system for transactions in euros might end up covering not only Iran, but also Moscow and Beijing in the near future.
The issue of the sanctions against Russia, imposed on account of the Ukraine crisis, might become particularly pressing if the United States were to decide to adopt other restrictive measures against Moscow or Beijing in the future (see, for instance, the Huawei case). One need only think of the continuous US pressure against European countries importing Russian gas.
The US has only condescended to allow Germany to build the Nord Stream pipeline to Moscow in exchange for a purchase of American liquefied gas. Tensions could rise even further when the Turkish Stream connecting Moscow and Ankara is finished. Turkey is one of the most important buyers of Russian gas, together with Germany and Italy.
Many were laboring under the illusion that Putin’s trip to Rome could represent a turning point for the European sanctions imposed on Moscow. But the Kremlin leader had never even considered such a possibility. The trip, together with the meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, was important for Russia to demonstrate to the United States that Moscow is not isolated in Europe.
At the same time, Putin’s visit helped the Italian government give off the impression that Italy is still an important country, one which has a more prominent role in the European Union than simply doing the bidding of the Americans.
However, Putin came to our country knowing very well that we are an American protectorate, hosting no less than 60 US bases, 10,000 American soldiers and 90 nuclear warheads. He had no illusion that he could change the Italian geopolitical orientation, but he wanted to do some good business all the same.
In 1969, Italy was the first European state to make a deal with the USSR to purchase its natural gas; now, Putin wanted to make sure that we would continue to be one of the major customers of Russian gas—particularly in view of the new sanction war, which started with Iran, but which is likely to expand to Russia and China in the future.
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