Iran's Nuclear Deal, a “Desirable” Option for Russia

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alireza Noori
Ph.D. Candidate, Saint Petersburg State University & Expert on Russian Affairs

After many years of confrontation and months of intense negotiations, the draft of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been signed by Iran and the member states of the P5+1 group of world powers. Through this fluctuating process, all parties involved in this case made various efforts in order to meet their own interests in the best possible way. Russia, as one of the main members of the P5+1 group was no exception to this rule and has resorted to various tactics in order to achieve this goal. Of course, reduced role of this country in the latest round of the nuclear negotiations was quite evident, which was not unexpected. Firstly, Moscow has been always trying to adopt intermediate positions and play the role of a mediator in order to protect its interests simultaneously on both sides of the deal (both with Iran and the West). Naturally, when obstacles to direct negotiations between Tehran and Washington were removed, the role of this mediator became less important.

Secondly, at most junctures of its history, Moscow has adopted positions as a function of its relations with the “West” and lack of a fixed strategy has been evident in Russia’s policies. The result of this approach has been further restriction of Russia’s political playground to the framework “manufactured” by the United States and this issue had practically deprived Russia of any initiative in the latest round of nuclear talks and had greatly limited Moscow’s latitude to play an effective role. However, Moscow was one of the supporters of a peaceful and gradual solution to Iran's nuclear case and it seems that the formulation of the draft JCPOA has helped Russia to realize its desirable option in this regard. In order to understand why this option is “desirable” for Russia, attention should be paid to various political, security, economic, geopolitical and other themes as well as the other three possible scenarios, which were conceivable if such an agreement (the fourth option) had not been reached:

1. Iran's access to nuclear bomb;
2. Military action against Iran;
3. Submission of Iran to the West’s pressure and its subsequent alignment with the US policies; and
4. (Nuclear agreement and recognition of Iran as a peaceful nuclear power).

As time went by, it became clear to Moscow that Iran would not give in and any escalation of pressures on the country may direct Iran's nuclear case toward the second option and then toward the first option. These conditions would not be suitable to meet Russia’s interests and Moscow had frequently warned about the unrestrainable consequences of those scenarios. In the meantime, and following recent developments in the Middle East and Ukraine, officials in the Kremlin reached a more profound understanding of the West’s aggressive geopolitical approach and the main reasons for mounting pressure on Iran (under the pretext of defending nuclear nonproliferation). Moscow clearly saw that the main reasons for increasing pressure on Iran were to regain the past control over Tehran and also to bolster the West’s influence in the region.

Under these conditions, the fourth scenario was considered as the “desirable” option which could meet Moscow’s long-term interests, as a result of which, Russia built its practical policy on the basis of this option. By helping realization of this option, Moscow not only helped establish position of Iran as its “natural geopolitical partner” in the region – which plays an important role in maintaining stability in regions south of Russia, including Central Asia, the Caspian basin, South Caucasus, and the Middle East – but also prevented the materialization of other three options in practice.

However, Russia has never tried to conceal its concern about the negative effects of possible improvement in Tehran’s relations with the West following a final nuclear deal. Among those negative effects, one may point out possible reduction in global oil prices, Iran's competitive presence in Europe’s energy market, reduced importance of Iran card in Russia’s bargaining with the West, reduced dependence of Tehran on Moscow, restrictions in the Iranian market for the activities of Russian companies, and possible increased permeability of geographical regions around Iran to the West, especially along Russia’s southern border. However, despite the fact that some of these untoward effects of Iran deal are objective, Russia maintains that realization of the fourth scenario will be more beneficial to its long-term interests, and its benefits outweigh its disadvantages.

Iran nuclear case, however, has still a long way to go before reaching a final conclusion. The “threat of a nuclear Iran” which has been “manufactured” within geopolitical and geoeconomic context of the region, has had certain benefits for the West and it still has the capacity to benefit the West. Strengthening of the West’s hegemony, promotion of exceptionalism in resolution of international problems, increased arms sales to regional countries, further military buildup in the region, more dependence of regional countries on the West, bolstering political influence of the West, and diverting the world’s public opinion from Arab-Israel issue are just a few examples of the benefits that this manufactured threat could have for the West. And all these measures have been made possible in the light of promoting Iranophobia by the West.

Under these conditions, Moscow is well aware that the implementation and verification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would be more difficult than its conclusion. A host of variables, including increased regional instability, and the viewpoints of political elites in Tehran and Washington can still delineate a future outlook for the nuclear deal that could be much different from what is expected. In addition, the West is skillful in offering a self-entered interpretation of the agreement, make the most of its ambiguous parts, take advantage of Tehran’s possible mistakes, and even put Iran in such a situation that it would have to violate the contents of the agreement. Such measures, if taken, would create further challenges between the two sides.

Moscow has already experienced this because it has signed many arms restriction treaties with the West, which have been violated in recent years on various grounds and every time, Moscow has been blamed for the violation. Under these conditions, the process of the implementation and verification of JCPOA would be a good opportunity for Russia. Moscow can be of help in this process to both realize its “desirable” option and prove its claim to having an “independent” foreign policy. In the meantime, it will also prevent further progress of the West’s forceful expansionism.

Key Words: Iran, Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement, Desirable Option, Russia, West, P5+1, Nuclear Bomb, Military Action, Peaceful Nuclear Power, Middle East, Ukraine, Moscow’s Interests, Europe’s Energy Market, Violation, Iranophobia, Noori

More by Alireza Noori:

*Iran-Russia “Cautiously” Interacting within SCO:

*Changes in Russia-Saudi Relations Nothing More than Tactical Maneuvering:

*Russia and the Challenge of Iran's Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement:

*Photo Credit: IRNA

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