Michael Crowley ruins an otherwise good post on the Obama administration’s engagement with Russia over the Iranian nuclear program with this aside:
But don’t pour those vodka shots just yet: There’s still plenty of reason for skepticism about Russia’s ultimate intentions. It’s never easy to divine Moscow’s true intentions, after all, and some people reasonably suspect Russia of playing both sides in this game–opportunistically positioning itself to line up with whomever seems to be winning the U.S.-Iranian struggle. Vladimir Putin is said to consider international sanctions blunt and ineffective. “I think they are fed up with the Iranians, but don’t see sanctions as a useful tool,” says James Goldgeier, a Russia expert at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
“Playing both sides” is really just an unnecessarily sinister way of saying that Russia is trying to pursue its own interests, which is what states do. Among (American) foreign policy commentators, there’s this unfortunate tendency to treat every one of Russia’s moves as having some sort of dark undertone, even those that are fairly pedestrian as far as state behavior is concerned. I have no doubt that Moscow is obscuring its “true” intentions, but in doing so, it is playing the exact same game as everyone else.