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Evolution of Iran-Russia Axis in Trump Era

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

 

Hossein Kebriaeizadeh

Following recent cooperation between Iran and Russia in Syria and the brilliant outcomes that their cooperation had in restricting the reach of extremist elements of Daesh in the region, many experts have come to the conclusion that Russia’s active military presence in a country different from member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States is indicative of a change in Moscow’s foreign policy and Middle Eastern policy.

Of course, early signs of this development were on the horizon since a long time ago, but its footprint can be seen in those doctrines that form the basis of Russia’s foreign and military policies. Certain points can be derived after a review of Russia’s declared policies in 1993, 2000, 2010, 2014, and 2016, including through attention to the focus put by Russia’s political and security apparatuses on the Middle East and West Asia regions. The first point is the time interval between release of these documents, which has been reduced from ten years to two years and may even decrease to one year in the future. The second issue is the contents of these documents, most of which indirectly owned up to the power and influence of the United States in the Middle East and West Asia. Of course, at the present time, and most probably in future documents, this influence and power will be subject to serious controversy.

However, the issue, which is of high importance, is Iran's position in Russia’s foreign and security policies in the Middle East. In the latest policy document released by Russia, for the first time after the fall of the former Soviet Union, Iran has been named as a country, which enjoys enough potential for all-out expansion of relations. This comes while throughout the history of turbulent relations between these two neighbors, sometimes the level of pessimism and lack of trust between the two countries has been high enough to prevent expansion of relations between them despite existence of mutual need to those relations. The same psychological and historical obstacles had prevented relations between Iran and Russia from being complete and strategic in nature even in the most crucial junctures of their history. When it comes to regional issues, relations between these two players have been successful and effective any time they have cooperated in certain areas.

In view of the above facts, it may be too ambitious to talk about evolution of an Iran-Russia axis in the Middle East following the recent instance of military cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in Syria. However, it can be also hope-inspiring in that relations between Iran and Russia have not followed the same formula even under similar conditions.

It seems that at the present time, Iran and Russia are in conditions when they can learn a lesson from the useful experience of cooperation in Syria and extend that cooperation to various other fields.

Before this, Iranians always accused Moscow that it was exploiting Tehran’s special conditions and the country’s relative isolation in the region. Therefore, they argued that in comparison with the West, Russians are les trustworthy. However, the experience of cooperation with Moscow in Syria taught Tehran that it must somehow tone down its ideological approach to this issue and instead rely more on the geopolitical logic. This decision will help the Iranian side’s expectations from the Russian side be managed more properly. At the same time, following what happened in Syria, this viewpoint has been strengthened that Russia is a big actor with interests and concerns far bigger than Iran. Therefore, some breaches of promise throughout history of the two countries’ relations have not been out of Russia’s ill will, but have been the result of conflict in the extensive interests, which would have spurred any other actor in a similar direction.

Another experience, which caused Tehran’s attitude toward its northern neighbor to become more realistic, was the case of Iran's nuclear program, the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and what happened after conclusion and implementation of that agreement. One year after the implementation of the JCPOA started and despite their commitment to the JCPOA, Iranians believe that they have not achieved the goals of the agreement. Now, following political changes in the United States, it seems that conditions for the continuation of the JCPOA have become worse and in an unexpected turn of events, the result of efforts made by former US president, Barack Obama, has been handed down to a Republican team topped by an unpredictable president. New US President Donald Trump has likened Iran's nuclear deal, which has been also taken up by the United Nations Security Council, as a scrap paper and has called for basic revision in the agreement. Therefore, despite what the agreement had predicted about removal of sanctions against Iran, now Trump is even talking about imposing tougher sanctions on the Islamic Republic. All these issues have energized political interactions between these two political actors, namely, Iran and Russia, now that a catalyst factor like Trump has been also added to the equation. The experience of relations between the two countries shows that any time the two actors are faced with problems caused by a common enemy called the United States, those factors, which lead to their convergence, become activated with more force and as a result of distressful conditions faced by them.

The United States, under the rule of Trump, is apt to help conditions governing Iran's relations with Russia fare in such a way that the axis made up by the two countries will continue to work in the Middle East even after the crisis in Syria is over.

In view of Iran's rising power in the Middle East, the exercise of convergence between Iran and Russia and going beyond small-scale cooperation toward large-scale strategic collaboration can be considered as an achievement for Iran and Russia during the four-year term of Trump. With a little more optimism, one can even expect Tehran and Moscow to choose cooperation resulting from informed choices over relations based on distress.

 

More By Hossein Kebriaeizadeh: 

*Challenges and Opportunities for Dialog between Iran and the Arab world: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Challenges-and-Opportunities-for-Dialog-between-Iran-and-the-Arab-world.htm
*Role of Riyadh in Providing Theoretical Support for Extremism in Middle East: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Role-of-Riyadh-in-Providing-Theoretical-Support-for-Extremism-in-Middle-East.htm
*Future Outlook for Iran-Russia Regional Cooperation Following Syria Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Future-Outlook-for-Iran-Russia-Regional-Cooperation-Following-Syria-Crisis.htm

 

*Photo Credit: Sputnik-News
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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