A top Russian security official and a senior lawmaker suggested on Tuesday that Moscow could back a draft UN Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran, despite Russia's long-held opposition to punishing Tehran.
"The Russian political leadership will apparently have to join a new resolution on Iran proposed by Britain, Germany and France that envisages limited economic sanctions," Yuri Volkov, a deputy speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said in a statement.
Volkov has played a low-key role in the past and made no statements on global politics, although he is in charge of parliamentary contacts with Iran. Like most other members of the Duma, he belongs to the Kremlin-controlled United Russia faction.
It is unclear whether he has any access to Kremlin decisionmaking. But Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia's presidential Security Council, made comments later that also suggested Moscow could support the draft European resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
"Resolutions and sanctions are not a goal in themselves. They are just one of the elements," Ivanov told a news conference. "And if such a resolution is worked out, it will be first of all one of the elements aimed at assisting political negotiations, because only as a result of political negotiations and dialogue can a concrete result be achieved."
"Any decision in the Security Council must be aimed not at punishing Iran but at achieving our goals through political means," Ivanov said.
The goal, he said, is to preserve Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy while ensuring it does not develop nuclear weapons.
Ivanov's comments suggested that Russia -- which is wary of angering Iran by appearing to join the West in calls for punishment, and has warned that harsh measures could scuttle chances for a resolution of the crisis -- could cast support for limited sanctions as a path toward further talks.
"Russia continues to call for a political settlement," he said.
His remarks left plenty of room for wrangling in the Security Council, and may have been intended more as a signal to a stubborn Iran that Russia's opposition to sanctions has its limits than as a telegraph of its plans for a council vote.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members with strong commercial ties to Tehran, have consistently been reluctant to support sanctions.
But Volkov said that "the Iranian leadership's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment activities and engage in a constructive dialogue with leading global powers leaves no chance for a quick diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear problem."