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West-Russia Tension: Opportunities and Consequences for Iran

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Farhad Parand
By: Ramin Nadimi

Tensions in Ukraine heightened after the Autonomous Republic of Crimea declared independence from Kiev and formally applied to become part of the Russian Federation following a referendum on March 16, in which about 97 percent of the participants voted for reunion with Russia. The move led to pro-Russian protests in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Kiev accuses Moscow of supporting the protesters, a claim which Moscow denies. On April 17, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union agreed in Geneva over steps to "de-escalate" the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where anti-Kiev protesters have seized buildings in several towns and cities. But Ukrainian authorities have ordered a military offensive against the protesters. Near the city of Yasynuvata, the Donetsk region, pro-Russia protesters seized a rail control center. Over a dozen cities in eastern Ukraine including Luhansk, Kramatorsk, Donetsk and Horlivka are under the control of pro-Russia protesters. On Friday, May 2nd alone, over 45 people were killed in one of Ukraine’s deadliest days since the beginning of the crisis.

In order to discuss the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West in Ukraine and its consequences as well as possible positive and negative impacts for Iran, Iran Review conducted an interview with Dr. Farhad Parand; Graduate of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine, Visiting Professor at University of Tehran’s Faculty of World Studies; Russia Researcher & Expert on Commonwealth of Independent States’ Foreign Trade at Trade Promotion Organization of Iran.

What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: What is your opinion about the consequences as well as possible positive and negative impacts of the rising tensions between Russia and the West for Iran?

A: There is no doubt that tensions between the West and Russia will have consequences for our country, which will especially stem from the measures and positions that Iran will take on the crisis in Ukraine. As a civilized country with a rich historical background, we must put renewed emphasis on such important principles as respect for human values and the rule of law in the international community. If we looked at this issue from a purely humanitarian angle, we would conclude that no innocent human being should be killed and injured, forced to leave their homes, or lose the sense of security, peace and educational opportunities anywhere in the world, including in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and so forth, as a result of the expansionist political rivalries and policies pursued by big powers.

I believe that maintaining positive impartiality will be associated with the best results and consequences for our country under the present dangerous circumstances. I don’t mean that we must remain totally indifferent to what is going on, but I mean that we must try as much as possible to establish peace between the belligerent parties [in Ukraine crisis] so as to prevent the breakout of a full-fledged civil war or even a world war, which would certainly lead to a human catastrophe. As we are witnessing now, the crisis in Ukraine is gradually escalating. This process started with the declaration by the independence of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine and its integration into Russia. Since then, the crisis has continued to escalate as a result of further expansion of conflicts between separatists in eastern parts of Ukraine and Ukrainian army; intensification of the West’s sanctions and their escalation from a ban on foreign travels by certain Russian officials to freezing their assets and imposing trade and financial sanctions on Russia; Russia’s threats about stopping gas exports to Ukraine and other European countries if Ukraine fails to pay its overdue gas bills; and Moscow’s threats about imposing sanctions against the Western companies which are working in various economic sectors of Russia, including in the energy sector. By an by, the crisis took on an overt military aspect as a result of the deployment of the American forces to Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Estonia; deployment of warplanes by France and the UK to Lithuania; dispatching military equipment by Romania to its border areas with Ukraine; increased military presence of Ukraine in border areas with Russia; increased frequency of military drills by both Russia and the Western countries in the region; deployment of American warships to the Black Sea region; the United States’ green light to giving non-lethal military aid to Ukraine, and deployment of about 200 nuclear warheads by the United States on the soil of its allies in Europe. As a result of the above developments, there has been growing buildup of military forces and equipment around Russia, which has turned the region into a powder keg. If serious differences between Russia and the West in Syria are considered together with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the result is that today, we are closer to a nuclear war than any time before.

Q: Can Russia’s approach to Georgia, and now to Ukraine (especially in Crimea), turn into a regular course of action to be applied to other countries – that is, other former republics of the Soviet Union or countries in other regions, which suffer from ethnic differences?

A: Given the current approach taken by the world’s expansionist powers, it follows that respect for the value of human life, rule of legitimate governments, territorial integrity of countries as well as the general rules governing the international community has been waning. We see that certain political groups are banking on their popular support base to topple legitimate and elected governments while, on the other hand, the other side shows disrespect for its international agreements and obligations by occupying land belonging to another country. Perhaps, one may say that this process has turned into a course of action by the Western countries from the time they supported the independence of Kosovo from the former Yugoslavia, which was followed by the annexation of parts of Georgia and Ukraine to Russia. It is for certain that continuation of this illegal course of action and its spread to other parts of the world can pose a serious threat to global security.

Q: What will be the advantages and/or consequences of a possible oil for goods program between Iran and Russia, if such a program actually enters into force?

A: This issue would be easier to understand if we assumed that, for a variety of reasons, we are not experiencing normal economic conditions, and that we must do everything to help and improve the economic conditions using various solutions and options. This program will act like a two-edged sword because it will have certain advantages and disadvantages. The most important advantage of such a program for Iran, under the current conditions, is to reduce the impact of the Western sanctions through increasing Iran's oil exports by 50 percent. In this way, Russia will play the role of a catalyst because it will cushion the possible impact of the sudden flow of the Iranian crude oil into the global markets, thus preventing international oil prices from experiencing a drastic downturn. Perhaps Moscow believes that by implementing this program, it will be able to secure and even increase its control over European energy markets.

A major disadvantage of this program is that it can potentially undermine the process of Iran's nuclear talks with the Western countries. Other untoward effects include sale of Iran's crude oil at a price lower than recognized global prices; casting doubts on competitiveness of goods and services provided to Iran by Russia in terms of price, quality, aftersales services and so forth compared to their Western counterparts; overdependence of the Iranian economy on Russia; reduced role and position of Iran in global energy markets and increased role of Russia as Iran's rival in energy sphere. It should be noted that Russia has made the most of Iran's sanctions during the years that the Islamic Republic has been suffering from international and unilateral sanctions. Another issue, which should be taken into account here, is the high impact of the West’s initial sanctions on the Russian economy which has caused Russian financial markets to experience a 22-percent slump. The sanctions have also reduced the value of ruble, and slowed down the economic growth of Russia compared to two previous quarters. As a result of these developments, the Russian economy is currently in a period of recession with the International Monetary Fund predicting that the capital flight from Russia will hit 100 billion dollars in 2014. It has been also forecasted that if the involved parties failed to find a final solution to end the crisis in Ukraine, Western sanctions will gradually expand to include the country’s oil and gas sector as well. In that case, the aforesaid [oil for goods and services] program should be designed for a short period and in such a way that Iran would be able – in case the obstacles to its reentry into global energy market are removed – to enter that market and continue to play its geopolitical role as a regional power and even boost that role.

Q: Do you think that the state of political and geopolitical dispute or even conflict between Russia and the West can be considered a favorable condition for the Islamic Republic?

A: You are talking about political rivalry or conflict between the West and Russia. One of the most important tools used by both sides to threaten each other is the imposition of oil and gas sanctions. The West is threatening Russia with stopping the purchase of Russian oil and gas while Russia is threatening the European countries with a possible cut in natural gas flow. This is actually the same sector in which our country is quite rich. Unfortunately and in an unjust manner, Iran's oil and gas sector has been under sanctions imposed by the western countries. On the other hand, Russians have not been willing to cooperate with Iran in this sector in order to maintain and increase their own control over European energy market. As a result, we, as an independent country in the region which enjoy high power and influence, should take the best advantage of this situation on the basis of our own national interests and security.

Q: Is it possible for Russia, if it really manages to increase its [political and military] power, to emerge as an expansionist and imperialistic power similar to the model of the imperialistic powers in the 19th century and what would be the consequences of such a possible scenario for Iran?

A: We have major political rivals in the region, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey. It is evident that increased power of any of these rivals would not be to our benefit. Therefore, if we adopted policies that would benefit any of these rivals, it would mean that we have put ourselves in a position of weakness and have turned opportunities into threats and this would be a grave mistake.

Q: What is the best and most advantageous course of action to be taken by Iran with regard to the ongoing tensions between Russia and the West? And how Iran would be able to meet its future interests in the best possible manner in view of the new political demarcations between Russia and the West?

A: In view of my knowledge about Ukraine, especially the western and eastern parts of this country, [I believe that] the existing problem came into being as an internal conflict on a domestic level among various Ukrainian political factions, which was mostly a result of the inefficient economic performance of [former Ukrainian president, Viktor] Yanukovych’s government. Therefore, the dispute could have been easily contained and solved through measures which could have been taken by various Ukrainian political parties. They call Ukraine the “mother of Russia,” and the people in west and east of Ukraine have closer family relations and many commonalities. However, interferences by other countries gradually turned that domestic problem into a full-blown international crisis. Therefore, further intervention of other countries will only serve to make this crisis more complicated and cause it to grow in all dimensions. According to a recent agreement reached among the government of Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the United States in the Swiss city of Geneva, all sides have been committed to do their best for the peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine. Therefore, to prevent a possible civil war in the country and to protect territorial integrity of Ukraine, the interim government in this country should provide suitable conditions for the participation of all political parties in the forthcoming presidential election of Ukraine, which is scheduled to be held on May 25, 2014.

As said before, the best and the most productive course of action to be taken by Iran with regard to the ongoing dispute between Russia and the West is to remain impartial and turn the crisis into economic opportunities for the country’s energy, industry, mine and trade sectors. By doing this the Islamic Republic would be able to protect the national interests of Iran in a much better way.

Key Words: West-Russia Tension,Opportunities and Consequences, Iran, Ukraine, West’s Sanctions, Expansionist and Imperialistic Power, Parand

Links For Further Reading:

*Russia-West Rivalry/Confrontation and Iran's Need to Be Cautious: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Russia-West-Rivalry-Confrontation-and-Iran-s-Need-to-Be-Cautious.htm

*Consequences of Iran's Position on Ukraine Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Consequences-of-Iran-s-Position-on-Ukraine-Crisis.htm

*“Iran's Nuclear Case” Card in Russia-West Confrontation: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/-Iran-s-Nuclear-Case-Card-in-Russia-West-Confrontation.htm

*Photo Credit: Al Jazeera America, ISNA

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