Impacts of Georgian War on Iran-Russia Relations

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Elaheh Koulaei

Every country in order to serve its own interests, would try to make appropriate use of the different tools made available to it by the realities around it. Russia is no exception. In the first years after disintegration of the Soviet Union, the leadership of the Russian Federation who had not reaped their desired result from their extremely optimistic outlook towards the West accepted the need to gradually change this outlook. As a result, we have been witnessing a trend of rivalry and cooperation between Russia and the West, particularly the United States followed by Europe.

In the course of the Russian attack on Georgia, which was a repetition of the experience of the first years after disintegration in Moscow-Tbilisi relations, Russia made it clear that it is particularly sensitive about the former Soviet republics and that unlike the early years after the breakdown, it would not tolerate the independence of these countries, including their closeness with the US and Europe. Therefore, the attack of the Russian army against Georgia was a response to the efforts of the Georgian government to defend its territorial integrity which in the opinion of Russia made no sense within the region of the former (Soviet) Union.

This crushing military action by Russia was a response to the efforts of the US and Europe to separate Kosovo from Serbia which took place despite the Russian opposition. Contrary to the years of domination of Western style optimism in Moscow, the Russian leaders this time resorted to actions to retaliate the Kosovo affair. At the same time when the independence of Kosovo became an issue, the Russian political leaders warned that if the separation took place, Moscow would retaliate in Georgia where a pro-American and pro-European government was ruling. Of course, the Russian intention was clear, that is they would recognize independence of South Ossetian separatists.

In this manner, the events in Georgia are taken as an attempt by Russia to prevent Georgia from further integration with the US and Europe. In the meantime, the Russian leaders, both under Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, are well aware of the need for the country to maintain constructive cooperation with the US and Europe. They are not seeking to revive Cold War era confrontations. This is something Putin has already made clear. The Russian leaders are targeting the policy of “rivalry and cooperation”. In the same line, they are trying to take the initiative and obtain more levers, including putting pressure on the Tbilisi government by recognizing the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But the assumption that in execution of this policy, support for the Russian military action in Georgia would bring about a change in Moscow’s policy vis-à-vis the Iranian nuclear issue, does not tally with the realities on the ground in Russia. From the very beginning of Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran there were numerous opposition voices against this cooperation inside Russia. The supporters of this cooperation, however, have always based their arguments on the points that Iran is under control, responsive and committed to international rules and regulations.

Under the present conditions, with due regard to the trend of Russia’s relations with the US and Europe, although these countries would not reach agreement on passing a resolution about the Georgian war, but the Iranian nuclear issue is a different story. The Russians in their relations with all the countries, including Iran, have shown that they would only take into account their own interests. As it has repeatedly happened in Iran’s relations with Russia, the Russian leaders have always considered one yardstick in formulating their relations with other countries, namely to serve Moscow’s net interests under any condition.

Closing its gas taps to Ukraine and Belarus could be recalled as a cautionary lesson here. Therefore, with regard to Iran’s place in Russia’s foreign policy and Moscow’s priorities, it is unlikely for Russia to voice so much support for IRI that it would leave negative impact on its relations with Europe and US. For Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran as a country offering specific aspects of rivalry and cooperation in Central Asia and the Caucasus in the field of energy production and transfer is just a player that could be used in different forms by Moscow in regulating its relations with the West.

Russia’s new foreign policy principles show clearly that Iran’s place in its foreign policy priorities is not such significant for the Russian leaders to pay a price in adjusting their relations with the West.


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