Iran and Russia: Allies or Rivals in Global Energy Space?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Active ImageIran and Russia are two important countries in global equations each of which leaves its impact on the global energy space. Russia which is nuclear armed and holds the veto power in the UN Security Council is still regarded one of the most powerful countries in the world. Iran which enjoys a prominent geopolitical status in the geostrategic Middle East region and in the Muslim world, is regarded a regional hegemonic power with global influence.

In the energy sector too, both Iran and Russia are among major producers and exporters. For the same reason, Tehran-Moscow relations in addition to bilateral dimensions enjoy regional and international significance as well.

Particularly, due to the West's sensitivity, Iran-Russia cooperation in the area of nuclear energy has always been under close watch. Here a question pops up and that is whether Iran and Russia are rivals or allies in the global energy space. To provide an answer to this question attention must be paid to the particular features in Tehran-Moscow relations.

At present, it seems that absence of fundamental and value-based differences; lack of territorial and border disputes; nonexistence of tension in bilateral political relations; presence of common and identical interests at regional and international levels; adoption of identical and unified stances vis-à-vis numerous regional and global issues; expansion of cultural ties and economic transactions in recent years; efforts to provide the modus operandi for regional security minus trans-regional players; displeasure over NATO expansion eastward; discontent over the dominant international order; and attempts to forge a just and multi-polar order are among the features shared by Iran and Russia. In fact, with due regard to these features, Iran and Russia share special, common, identical and complementary interests which could be strengthened and pave the way for closer cooperation.

Of course, there have been excellent examples of Tehran-Moscow cooperation in the past too, such as Russia's positive stance concerning Iran's nuclear program and supply of Russian arms to IRI. In return, Iran's positions vis-à-vis the Chechen conflict, the Karabakh dispute and the internal war in Tajikistan are also noteworthy. In any event, these characteristics which explain the wide and almost coordinated and identical span in Iran-Russia relations coupled with the existing potentials could promote relations between the two countries to a strategic level. In the same line, the presence of rich energy resources in Russia and Iran can bring the two countries even closer to one another.

Generally, the most important aspect of Iran-Russia cooperation on energy is divided into two sections, namely fossil energy and nuclear energy. As far as fossil energy is concerned, the launch of the organization of gas exporting countries was a significant step initiated by Iran and Russia and supported by heads of the two states. Concerning the nuclear energy too, completion of Bushehr nuclear power plant would boost mutual trust in bilateral interactions. In fact, completion of Bushehr power plant has turned into a symbol of Iran-Russia cooperation and the scheduled commissioning of the plant could lead the two countries towards other strategic projects in energy and industrial fields. Although oil will be the most important energy source within the next decade but we must remember that natural gas and nuclear energy would enjoy a higher position compared to the present time.

Therefore, Tehran-Moscow cooperation in the fields of gas and nuclear energy can highly affect future equations in the energy market. This issue can be particularly reviewed and scrutinized in the light of US efforts to block Iran-Russia energy cooperation. The United States has been trying to undermine Tehran-Moscow nuclear cooperation on the one hand and deprive the two countries of huge revenues from energy supply on the other. For instance, Washington has always opposed energy transfer pipelines from Iran and Russia which according to economic experts are the shortest and most economical routes for oil supply in the region. One reason is that in case this is done Iran and Russia would take the energy market in Western Europe under control.

In fact, considering that Iran and Russia are both countering a trans-regional player called the United States which is trying to deprive them of energy supply income, expansion of bilateral cooperation between the two countries will thwart Washington's attempts to change the energy supply routes. Moreover, Iran-Russia cooperation could lead to stabilization of global energy markets. Now that the oil price has gone down as a result of the global financial crisis, Iran and Russia can play an effective role in stabilization and even raising of the oil prices. For instance, bilateral cooperation in St. Petersburg oil bourse, the use of Russia ruble in the newly established Iranian oil bourse as well as the presence of Russian companies in Iran's oil and gas fields could be practical and appropriate ways to this end. In line with the same policy, the signing of an agreement by Iran and Russia on development of South Pars gas field was an important fruitful measure.

Taking into account the current global economic situation as well as the dominant international order, it seems that Iran and Russia would be able to use energy as an effective lever when they are beside one another. Any rift and division in the positions of the two countries could serve the interests of the energy consuming countries in the long run even if this served the interests of Tehran and Moscow in the short term. For the same reason, in the global energy space, Iran and Russia before being rivals are two allies. This is particularly so in view of the existing potentials and mutual desire to participate in various joint projects. Here regional cooperation organizations, development of economic relations, moving towards pragmatism and efforts to shift from tactical partners to strategic partners could help accelerate the trend of bilateral cooperation.


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