Ahmadinejad-Medvedev Meeting: Opportunity for Realism

Friday, June 17, 2011

Alireza Noori
Expert on Russia and Central Asia

Stalemate in Iran-Russia Relations under Medvedev

Iran’s relations with Russia have been function of various domestic and international conditions as well as personal, institutional and international factors under various heads of states, especially Dmitri Medvedev. Review of those relations in different periods of time, including under Ahmadinejad and Medvedev will prove that international factors such as Iran’s relations with the west and Russia’s relations with the west have been more influential than personal or institutional factors in determining relations between Tehran and Moscow. The fact that Medvedev gives priority to “compliance” with international norms in his foreign policy is clear indication of the impact of international factors which have had a negative impact on Tehran-Moscow relations. Perhaps the United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was true when he described Russia’s foreign policy as “schizophrenic” because Moscow is trying to safeguard its own interests by tactical vacillation between Iran and the west. Medvedev, however, seems to have made a clear change in that equation by taking Russia’s foreign policy closer to the United States.

Three important factors; that is, 1) changes in foreign ambience and concerns about new demarcations between Russia and the west, 2) spread of the world economic crisis to Russia and the need for transfer of capital and modern technology to rebuild the Russian economy, and 3) more realistic assessment of Moscow’s position in international arrangements have made Medvedev conclude that “compliance” with the west will help his country play a more consequential role in international equations. They will also define a basis for sustainable development of Russia. Medvedev, however, has tried because of the past bitter experiences with the west to implement the concept of “compliance” through an independent, equal and “initiative” approach, so that, he would not have to make unwanted adaptations. “Tit for tat” interaction is a mechanism chosen by Moscow in this regard. Sergei Karaganov maintains that Russia and the United States should be able to overlook less important differences in order to protect more vital interests in other areas. This interaction, which has been described “big deal” by some sources, has not only influenced bilateral relations, but interactions between Moscow-Washington axis and “third parties.” As a result of that development and due to the existing hostility between Iran and the west, on the one hand, and triangle of Iran – Russia – west, on the other hand, Russia has changed the rules of game with Iran and Tehran has been under mounting pressure from Moscow at the instigation of the United States.

Kremlin has apparently reached the conclusion that bargaining over Iran is costly while the west is offering tastier “carrots.” Therefore, distancing from Iran and getting closer to the west will be more beneficial to Russia. This is why Moscow’s behavior toward Iran has clearly changed and a remarkable example of that change has been positive votes for anti-Iran sanctions resolutions, including the Security Council Resolution 1929. This change of course, which has been criticized by President Ahmadinejad on several occasions when he took a direct blow at Medvedev, has turned “cold waves” in bilateral relations into a totally “chilly winter.” Russia, at the same time, has been trying to play the role of a “powerful broker” in the triangle of Iran – Russia – US relations. Past experience, however, has proven that western countries are not as generous in giving rewards as Russia believes. Many cases in which the United States has “let Russia down” attest to the fact that Washington prefers a “one-way street” in relation with Moscow along which only Russia’s advantages will be transferred to the United States.

It should be noted that the strategy adopted by Obama to “attract” Russia even by “resetting” relations, is just a mechanism used to reduce the cost of US efforts to find a way out of the current international situation and realizing its future goals. Under such circumstances, Washington has cooked up Iran’s nuclear case “from nothing” and has been persistently aggrandizing Iran’s nuclear threat on the basis of concerns of an “international community” whose members have been never clearly named. It seems that community only represents special interests of Washington and the United States is trying through current efforts to make Russia a partner to its adventurism. Dual standards applied to Israel clearly prove that this is only much ado about nothing. More careful study will show that the main objective of such efforts is to limit Tehran’s maneuvering room and block its endeavor to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Therefore, one may claim that Moscow’s changing behavior toward Tehran under Medvedev is more a result of negative propaganda by the United States than being the outcome of an independent approach. An important indicator of a “big power” which Russia claims to be, however, is “realism.” More than being based on “objectivism,” Medvedev’s approach to Iran is a result of Washington’s insistence that to promote its international standing Russia should completely follow suit with US policies. Therefore, Medvedev’s unfriendly approach to Iran and his fealty to Washington’s goals should be considered a game designed by Washington whose main profits will be reaped by the United States while losses will be shared out between Tehran and Moscow. Therefore, the meeting between Ahmadinejad and Medvedev can be a good opportunity for both sides to build future relations on realism and do not make them a function of the US political games.

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