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Tactical and Geopolitical Interaction between Iran and Russia in Syria

Friday, October 30, 2015

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

Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which has relatively changed equations in this country, enjoys noteworthy and new specifications. Regardless of the ultimate success or failure of this measure, taking it per se has uplifted the status of Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East from a dominantly passive state to an actor with “initiative” – though in a relative manner – and has challenged the West’s claim to be unrivaled in this region. However, another characteristic of Russia’s military measure is the “tactical” interaction between Tehran and Moscow in Syria, while before that, the mostly cautious approaches adopted by both sides, especially by Russia, were an obstacle on the way of regular cooperation between the two countries in such common fields as establishing stability in Afghanistan.

However, the main factor that has guided the two countries toward tactical interaction in Syria is the “urgent” necessity resulting from the common threat posed to them by the West’s aggressive strategy, whose main goal was further restriction of geopolitical assets of Tehran and Moscow in the Middle East by changing the situation in Syria. This necessity is the result of the special importance that both Iran and Russia attach to Syria in the overall map of the Middle East, and their readiness to pay the “cost of risk” was further emphasis on this readiness.

In addition, both Tehran and Moscow know that if they “retreated” in Syria, the West would not suffice to this, but would adopt a “more aggressive” approach as a result of which the two countries would have been forced to give more concessions in other fields. It was also possible that the arena of “conflict” would be transferred somewhere close to their borders. From this viewpoint, the “direct resistance” of Iran and Russia in Syria can be seen as an effort made to block further progress of the West’s hegemonic self-centeredness, which poses a major threat to the national security and interests of Iran and Russia. However, despite this large-scale common view, it would be misleading if the two countries’ tactical interaction in Syria is generalized to the entirety of their relations in order to construe the existing interaction as a “coalition” or “alliance.” Apart from different viewpoints that the two countries have on bilateral, regional and international issues, it must be also noted that their goals in Syria are more parallel than being common in nature.

Russia seeks to maintain a “geopolitical positioning point” in Syria while Iran sees Syria as a pillar of resistance against Israel; a viewpoint which is not held by Moscow. Moscow, on the other hand, does not rule out the possibility of cooperation with the West and its regional allies, while Iran considers some members of the Western coalition in the region – especially the United States – as “part of the problem” not “part of the solution” to the ongoing crisis in Syria and the region. In addition, Tehran, in line with its past experience, is concerned that Russia may decide to play with “Syria card” (for example, in a bid to find a solution to the crisis in Ukraine or with regard to Western sanctions imposed on Syria), which can also affect Iran's regional interests.

Despite the above facts, it cannot be denied that there exists a common geopolitical understanding between the two sides, especially on the part of Russia toward Iran. Following the Arab Spring developments, the downfall of Libya’s former dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, escalation of tensions in Syria, and especially, the breakout of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Russians officials at the Kremlin have reached a new geopolitical understanding of the nature of the West’s aggressive policy in the region. A more profound understanding of the meaningful relations that exist among these developments, whose common link is destabilizing expansionism of the West, has convinced Russians to put up “direct resistance” against the West and boost cooperation with regional forces that are against the Western hegemony, including Iran.

In the meantime, although Iran and Russia are making an effort to promote their regional standing and fill the void that has been created after the West’s position was undermined in the region, their interaction in Syria is more of a “positive” nature than “negative,” and aims to maintain the “current geopolitical situation” while preventing geopolitical balance in the region from tilting in favor of the West and its allies. However, the current geopolitical confrontation in Syria is a “zero-sum” game, in which when the position of an actor is undermined it automatically leads to weakening of the other actor’s position. More importantly, the winner of this conflict will be able to play a more active role in determining future trends in Syria and the entire Middle East.

It is evident that the Western coalition will not accept further strengthening of the Iran-Russia axis to a level that it would be able to “create new trends” and challenge the framework set by them. Therefore, although they are happy with Iran and Russia undertaking the costs of confronting Daesh terrorist group and even are happy with the two countries being caught in Syria’s quagmire, they are at the same time concerned about large-scale goals pursued by Tehran and Moscow, especially their successful cooperation, which can pose challenges to the West in other fields in the future.

For this reason, causing failure of tactical interaction between Iran and Russia in Syria has turned into a new priority for the West and its allies, and their covert and over efforts to cause this failure are no secret. The new war of nerves launched by the West and the emphasis put on the false claim that Russia has taken this measure in order to support the Shia Crescent in the face of Sunnis in the region, can be construed along this line. In conclusion, it must be reemphasized that tactical interaction between Tehran and Moscow in Syria must not be generalized to other issues, but this interaction can pave the way for more geopolitical cooperation between the two countries, though this depends on many preconditions, the first of which is to define a strategy and model for sustainable interaction between the two sides.

Key Words: Iran, Russia, Syria, Tactical and Geopolitical Interaction, Daesh, Military Intervention, West, Aggressive Strategy, Hegemonic Self-Centeredness, Sustainable Interaction, Resistance, Noori

More by Alireza Noori:

*Bolstering Russia’s Military Interaction with Syria: Necessities and Considerations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Bolstering-Russia-s-Military-Interaction-with-Syria-Necessities-and-Considerations.htm

*Iran's Nuclear Deal, a “Desirable” Option for Russia: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-s-Comprehensive-Nuclear-Agreement-a-Desirable-Option-for-Russia.htm

*Iran-Russia “Cautiously” Interacting within SCO: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-Russia-Cautiously-Interacting-within-SCO.htm

*Photo Credit: Russia Insider

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