Russia’s Military Intervention in Crimea: Iran’s Position

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hassan Beheshtipour

In Iran, political experts have been going to extremes when it comes to analysis of the Islamic Republic’s position on the ongoing developments in Ukraine. Such extreme analytical tendency is the outcome of inaccurate understanding of what is currently going on in this East European country.

Some Iranian analysts are of the opinion that now that Russia has come to loggerheads with the West over Ukraine, Iran should take sides with Russia against the West just in the same way that Iran has appeared as a Russian ally over the Syria crisis. This viewpoint, however, has a number of flaws:

1. Adoption of this policy would be against the basic principle of “Neither East, Nor West” which has been embedded in Iran's Constitution. According to this principle, the Islamic Republic follows an independent policy according to which the country has constantly tried to act independent of the regular political games as well as international conflicts and challenges. It was for this reason that when the United States invaded Iraq in 1991 in response to earlier occupation of Kuwait by the Baathist army of Iraq, Iran adopted a policy of neutrality in accordance with its national interests. As a result, while condemning Iraq for invading Kuwait, which was previously an ally of Iraq in its [imposed] war against Iran, Tehran also condemned the invasion of Iraq by the US forces.

2. Even in the case of Syria, Iran is not a follower of Russia’s policies. The support that Iran has lent to the government of [the Syrian President Bashar] Assad has been defined within the clear framework of the Islamic Republic’s national interests. Iran supports Syria because it sees Damascus as the front line of the resistance front against the threat that Israel poses to Iran and other regional countries. Therefore, the argument that the West has fomented the current crisis in Ukraine in order to make Russia revise its policy toward Syria cannot be taken as logical justification for Iran's alignment with Russia’s policy in Ukraine. In the meantime, the crisis in Ukraine has not been originally created by the United States or the European Union. They are just taking advantage of that crisis against Russia and to the benefit of their own interests.

3. It is very unlikely that Iran would be able to bank on the existing difference between Russia and the United States [over Ukraine] in order to have its nuclear right recognized. Iran's nuclear case is faring properly within framework of the Geneva agreement and prolongation of differences between Russia and the United States may even face that agreement with problems.

Interestingly enough, there is another group of Iranian analysts who believe quite the opposite of the first group. They argue that Iran should take advantage of the ongoing war of words between Russia and the West in order to finalize a gas export deal with the European countries. In this way, they say, Iran would be able to serve as an alternative source of natural gas for the European countries, instead of Russia. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic can use this opportunity to the best effect in order to make up for the reduction of the country’s oil sales revenues, by increasing natural gas exports to Europe. There are also some provisos regarding the second group’s viewpoint:

1. Iran is still facing a major obstacle in the form of unilateral sanctions for the export of its natural gas to Europe. In the meantime, limited export of Iran's gas to Europe in the form of liquefied gas would not be able to serve as an alternative source to meet the increasing demand of the European countries for the natural gas, which is currently being met by Russia. This could be only possible through completion of a direct gas transfer pipeline to Europe, such as the Nabucco pipeline. But that project has been aborted since a few years ago due to serious opposition from Russia. Meanwhile, construction of a gas pipeline would also need a lot of time and money through long-term investment. Therefore, the best position that the Islamic Republic can possibly take under the present circumstances is to emphasis on the neutrality of Iran with regard to Ukraine crisis. The Islamic Republic of Iran is basically opposed to any form of foreign intervention in the internal affairs of independent states by any country and on any ground. Therefore, just in the same way that it does not support the military adventurism of Russia in Ukraine, it also rejects managed intervention of the United States and the European Union in Ukraine’s developments. Iran respects the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their fate through peaceful means and within framework of the law. In line with this policy, the Islamic Republic is against any form of foreign intervention in Ukraine regardless of whether the main party behind intervention is Russia, the United States or the European Union.

2. Some analysts are of the opinion that if Russia’s differences with the United States deepened, Moscow would get closer to Iran during the forthcoming nuclear negotiations. However, past experience has already proven otherwise. In the height of its confrontation with the West in 2008 and during the war with Georgia over South Ossetia region, Moscow never changed its position on Iran's nuclear case. Even in 2010, when Washington and Moscow decided to “reset” their relations, then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, unilaterally rescinded a previous contract his country had signed with Iran for the delivery of S-300 missile systems.

3. The period of the Cold War is over. There was a time when the former Soviet Union had based its approach to the United States on a specific ideological behavior. At that time, certain countries took advantage of the existing conflict between Moscow and Washington during the Cold War era to their own benefit. Today, however, Moscow has become more pragmatic, and its actions are based on its definition of Russia’s national interests.

*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’s Military Intervention, in Crimea, Iran’s Position, Neither East, Nor West, Syria, EU, Gas Export, Ukrainian People Rights, Iran's Neutrality, Beheshtipour

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*Photo Credit: Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Kavkaz Center

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