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Russia frustrated with Iran but unlikely to fully support sanctions

  • Fareed Zakaria: Russia increasingly frustrated with Iran; may agree to some sanctions
  • Eliminating Cold War mindset good idea, says Zakaria
  • Russia spans three continents, with thousands of nuclear warheads, says Zakaria
  • Zakaria: Russia's "natural resource billionaires" are a sign of the nation's weak economy
  • Russia
  • Russian Politics
  • Iran
  • Dmitry Medvedev

Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN U.S. on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET and CNN International at 2 and 10 p.m. Central European Time / 5 p.m. Abu Dhabi / 9 p.m. Hong Kong.

New York (CNN) -- The United States, Russia, China and other key nations have reached agreement on a "strong" Iran sanctions resolution, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said the United States has been "working closely" with its international partners -- the so-called P5 plus 1 -- on a resolution to present to the United Nations' Security Council.

She said they forged "a strong draft with the cooperation of Russia and China," the two countries that have been reluctant to impose strong sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program.

"We plan to circulate the draft resolution to the entire Security Council today," said Clinton, who made the remarks before she began testifying about START, the U.S.-Russian treaty on nuclear arms.

The P5 plus 1 includes the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, China, Russia, France, and Britain -- as well as Germany.

The group has been concerned that Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has denied that claim, saying it wants to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Fareed Zakaria told CNN he believes Russia is rather divided on the issue because the nation is in the unique position of being an oil-producing country.

Zakaria, author and host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," spoke to CNN this week. Here is an edited transcript:

CNN: Why has Russia not been more supportive in helping address Iran's nuclear program?

Fareed Zakaria: Actually, over the last six months, there have been signs that Russia is frustrated with Iran and is actually willing to go along with some sanctions. This is mostly because of Iran's stupidity. It has lied to almost everyone, including the Russians, hid the Qom reactor from them, and has proved a very erratic negotiating partner.

The Russians are divided between those elements of the regime that want to support them and those that think aligning themselves with Europe and the U.S. have greater benefits. But the bottom line is that Russia will never be wholly cooperative in tackling Iran for a very simple reason: Alone among the great powers, Russia is an oil exporter. So when there are international tensions and the price of oil goes up, the U.S., EU, China, India all suffer.

But Russia benefits from the higher oil prices. So in a sense, Russia can see that international tension over the Iran issue, works to its benefit.

CNN: The Obama administration has indicated they want to reset the relationship with Russia from the Cold War mindset. Do you think that is a good idea?

Fareed Zakaria: Yes. Russia is a major power, spanning three continents, with thousands of nuclear warheads. It is also a prickly nationalistic country. So dealing with it means giving it some respect. There are lots of areas where deals can be struck with them -- such as nuclear arms -- and the Obama administration is doing the right thing in tackling those. I would only caution that Russia is a weird great power, one who's basic economy is not very impressive and getting weaker not stronger over time. So, we shouldn't pin too many hopes on a U.S.-Russian partnership.

CNN: Why are there so many Russian billionaires? One just bought the New Jersey Nets and there seem to be many on the Forbes list.

Fareed Zakaria: It's a sign of the weakness of the Russian economy. Every one of them is a natural resource billionaire -- their fortunes derive from oil, natural gas, nickel, copper, aluminum. These were assets of the Soviet state that were privatized and some Russians ended up with the lion's share. There are few real entrepreneurial fortunes in Russia, despite having had many engineers. My own suspicion is that many of the scientifically trained Russians left Russia in the 1990s, most ending up in Israel -- which has had a tech boom based on the talents of its Russian immigrants.

CNN: There appears to be close ties between these billionaires/oligarchs and the Russian government. Is that causing political problems in the country?

Fareed Zakaria: There are ties, but the balance of power has shifted. The oligarchs are now distinctly subordinate to the government. Putin's first great power shift was to assert the power of the Russian state -- over the oligarchs. He has continued to consolidate power and at this point, while the oligarchs are very rich, they exist at the pleasure of the state -- and they know it.

CNN: President Dimitry Medvedev has admitted to the corruption problem. Why is he not able to do anything about it?

Fareed Zakaria: Two reasons. First, the rot is deep. So many elements of the Russian government are corrupt and are implicated in this almost mafia-like system of rule that it's not easy to change. They quietly subvert any efforts at reform. They have allies throughout the government at all levels, so even if the directive comes from the top, it never actually gets implemented. Second, it remains unclear how much power Medvedev has. He seems to say all the right things, but his words are rarely followed by action. He may have some influence, but it still appears that the "deep state" that actually rules Russia is run by Vladimir Putin and his coterie of advisers.