Russia Bent on Increasing Strategic Cooperation with Iran

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hassan Beheshtipour

During a two-day visit to the Iranian capital, Tehran, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed bilateral relations as well as the most important issues in the Middle East region with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The following article will look into the results and outcomes of his trip at international and regional levels as well as in terms of its impact on bilateral relations between Iran and Russia.

Undoubtedly, political exchanges at the level of foreign ministers do not usually draw a lot of attention. However, since Lavrov’s Tehran visit will have undeniable effects on the course of future developments regarding Iran's nuclear energy program as well as the situation in Syria and Iraq, it should not be taken lightly.

1. At international level

At an international level, one may claim that negotiations between the Russian foreign minister and his Iranian counterpart about the follow-up on the agreement signed between Iran and the group 5+1 of world powers in Geneva are of very high significance. This is true because Russia can be of great help in facilitating the implementation of the agreement and doing away with the existing differences between Iran and the United States. During the past days and due to tremendous pressure exerted on the White House by Israel in order to prevent the implementation of the Geneva agreement, the American officials at the White House and the US Congress have been making conflicting remarks. The conflict between remarks made by various American officials has led to speculations about efforts made to obstruct the implementation of the Geneva agreement. As a result, Russia’s role in preventing the final failure of the agreement has come to the fore as more important than any other juncture in the past. This role is not only of high significance to both sides, but has been also very important for most countries who want to see sanctions against Iran removed as soon as possible. Now, we must wait and see to what extent Russia will be able under the existing sensitive conditions to take advantage of the opportunity that has been offered to it.

2. At regional level

During the past two years, Russia has been able in close cooperation with Iran to play a more powerful role compared to the past years in the Middle East region. After the third term in office of the Russian President Vladimir Putin started in May 2012, Moscow showed without any doubt that it had discarded the old policy of interaction with the United States, which Russia had adopted since 2010 in order to reset bilateral relations between the White House and Kremlin. Instead, Russia has been making efforts since that time to increase its influence over those regions which were formerly considered as political backyards of the United States. Within this framework, Russia has been able to build its relations with Iran independent of the US pressures. As a result of close collaboration between Tehran and Moscow, the two countries have been successful in heading off a certain war against Syria, which could have easily evolved into regional dimensions. In fact, a common plan drawn up by Iran and Russia for voluntary disarmament of Syria by removal of its chemical weapons stockpiles, which was also welcomed by the incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad, practically defused a joint plot by the United States, Israel, France, the UK, Turkey and Saudi Arabia for initiating a military strike against Syria.

Preventing the war on Syria was without a doubt the most striking ground broken as a result of coordination between Iran's and Russia’s Middle East policies. Once in Tehran, Lavrov has been trying to generalize this successful experience to other critical regions of the world, especially Afghanistan.

This is a necessity because following the withdrawal of the American and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the resultant void of military power will provide terrorist and radical groups with a golden opportunity. Taking advantage of that opportunity, such terrorist and radical groups – which work under the false guise of Islam – will see their chance to penetrate Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In this way, they will be able to wage a destructive war in the Central Asia and Caucasus regions which, undoubtedly, its scope may include as far down as the Northern Caucasus within the Russian borders as well as the eastern border regions of Iran.

In view of the observer status of both Iran and Afghanistan within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Russia has been hoping that within the framework of that organization’s security models, it would be able to take steps, with necessary help from Iran, to restore stability and security to Afghanistan and fight drug trafficking in that region.

Preliminary negotiations have been also under way with regard to the legal regime of the Caspian Sea and determination of the final fate of that regime. The fate of the sea’s legal regime is to be determined within framework of the forthcoming summit meeting of the littoral states of the Caspian Sea, which is scheduled to be held next year in the Russian port city of Astrakhan. There is no doubt that finding a final solution to the legal regime of the Caspian Sea will greatly facilitate cooperation among countries located around the world’s biggest lake.

3. At the level of bilateral relations

Lavrov conducted successful talks in Tehran over the holding of the two countries’ joint economic commission session just at a time that Western sanctions against Iran are being gradually removed. Experts from both countries have also held preliminary talks on the best ways of developing cooperation in the field of generating nuclear electricity and the installation of new nuclear reactors in Iran.

As for the issue of S-300 missile defense system, Iran is still following up on the matter. The Russian side has offered to give Iran Antei-2500 missiles instead of S-300 systems. This proposal had been already raised during negotiations between Iranian officials and Dmitry Rogozin (Russian deputy prime minister in charge of defense industry) in Tehran. Iran, however, is still willing for the past agreement signed between Iran and Russia for the delivery of S-300 systems to be fulfilled by Moscow. Then, Tehran argues, the two sides can sit and negotiate over Iran's purchase of other Russian missile defense systems.

It was totally clear that the issue of S-300 delivery is still exerting its negative effect on relations between the two countries. However, increased exchanges between the two countries’ officials as well as mutual efforts to take necessary steps following the conclusion of the Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group are sure to have a positive effect on the expansion of bilateral relations between two countries in future.

This has been already proven when Iran decided to send a senior analyst of Russia issues, Mr. Sanaei, as its new ambassador to Moscow. By doing this, the Islamic Republic indicated that in parallel to efforts made by Iran to mend fences with the West, Tehran also pays increasing attention to improvement of relations with the East, especially with Russia and China. Sanaei, a former lawmaker at the Iranian parliament (Majlis), has already started to work as new Iranian ambassador to Moscow. In view of his good knowledge of the basic and influential issues that affect relations between Iran and Russia, he will be certainly in a good position to take more rapid steps for further expansion of relations between the two countries.

In order for collaboration between Iran and Russia grow more than before, the two sides should do their best to avoid past mistakes and show that the time is past for maintaining cooperation at the cost of third parties.

Iran and Russia should also prove that they can promote their relations in such a way as to reduce the influence of the United States and West’s policies on those relations to a minimum.

This is not difficult. On the one hand, Russia should show to the United States that it has a correct understanding of the benefits of sustainable cooperation with Iran. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic should show that its approach to relations with Russia is not instrumental and this is not true that Iran only looks toward Russia when it has problems with the West.


During all the years that have passed since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, Iran and Russia have experienced various ups and downs in their relations. It seems that this time, unlike any occasion in the past, Moscow prefers to enter a comprehensive agreement with Iran and follow it up to the end. Iran and Russia have already cooperated in certain areas such as helping to establish peace in Tajikistan and supporting the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, when every one of those cases reached their end, Russia forgot about Iran and started to woo other parties. It seems that during Lavrov’s Tehran trip, Russia has put emphasis on its interest to enter into a comprehensive agreement for cooperation with Iran. Lavrov has also conveyed the message to the Iranian officials from Moscow that Russia is now more serious than any other time in the past to develop strategic cooperation with Iran in the Middle East, Central Asia and Afghanistan.

If Russia actually pursues this goal, it will be the first time that Moscow has changed its mind about the pursuit of its unilateral policy with regard to its peripheral regions.

Without a doubt, Iran will welcome such a turn of events because Tehran knows this form of bilateral cooperation will lead to the establishment of peace and security in regional countries. It will also provide fertile grounds for the resolution of the existing problems which have blocked development of economic cooperation on a regional scale.

*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Key Words: Russia, Strategic Cooperation, Iran, Sergey Lavrov, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hassan Rouhani, International Level, Regional Level, Bilateral Relations, Beheshtipour

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*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency

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