Why Iran Relations Is Important to Russia?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ja'far Khashe’

Active ImageDespite many fluctuations in Iran’s relations with Russia and increasing alignment of Moscow with the west’s policies toward Iran, relations between the two countries are still in place. A series of influential factors seem to be preventing complete ruin of bilateral relations.

Two decades following collapse of the former Soviet Union, Tehran’s relations with Moscow are still fragile and not established. Although Russian politicians have had differing viewpoints toward relations with Iran, frequent factors encourage Russia to keep up those relations. Iran-Russia relations can be generally studied at three levels which will be reviewed below.

Bilateral level

Bilateral relations, especially economic exchanges, account for the lion’s share of Iran’s relations with Russia.

“Trade” and “economic opportunity” have been the main propositions in Russia’s foreign policy discourse to explain that country’s relations with Iran. Many Russian analysts even maintain that the opposition shown by the United States and the west, in general, to nuclear cooperation between Iran and Russia, is aimed at pushing Russia out of the Iranian markets. Breakout of widespread economic crises following the collapse of the former Soviet Union has turned economic restructuring into the most pressing priority of the Russian foreign policy. Therefore, many analysts believe that extreme need of the Russian industries, especially military and nuclear industries, to creditable foreign currencies is among the most important reasons behind remarkable development of military, technical and economic cooperation between Tehran and Moscow. The two countries signed a contract worth 800 million dollars for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr in 1994.

The contract involved about 300 Russian companies and was of high importance to Russia, especially to the Russian nuclear industries, in view of the country’s economic conditions.

Foreign exchange capacities and sheer size of the Iranian market compared to those in the Commonwealth of Independent States was also of high import to Russia. Russian oil and gas companies gradually expanded their activities in Iran due to existence of huge energy resources in the country. Examples include involvement of Gazprom in developing phases 2 and 3 of South Pars gas field, as well as the role of Tatneft and Lukoil, respectively, in Kish and in exploration operations of Anaran project.

The most important step taken to promote energy collaboration was signing of a “roadmap” document for energy cooperation over a 30-year period. It was concluded on July 14, 2010, to promote cooperation between Iran and Russia in such areas as exchange of technical know-how and technology transfer for oil, gas and petrochemical industries and was signed by petroleum ministers of Iran and Russia.

Iran’s weapons market is another reason why Iran ties are so crucial to Russia. Following implosion of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy has been grappling with many crises and in dire need of creditable foreign currencies in order to overcome them. At that period, as admitted by Russians, the only field in which Russia had a say was military technology. Thus, Iran became the third biggest customer of the Russian arsenal after China and India.

As for transportation, Iran’s geopolitical position as an easy way to link the Central Asia to free waters and the Persian Gulf is of high significance to Russia. Propinquity between the two countries has drawn attention to bilateral transportation projects, the most important of which is the North-South Corridor. This route is supposed to serve for transportation of the Russian goods through Iran to South and Southeast Asia. This will be highly beneficial to Russia because Russia will be in a very good position for transit of European and Asian commodities.

Regional level

Active ImageDue to regional crises and in view of Iran’s strategic position along southern Russian borders and in the neighborhood of the former Soviet republics, Moscow attaches great significance to Tehran ties.

Russia has been endeavoring to expand its relations with all Muslim countries in order to discourage foreign support for separatist movements in some Muslim-dominated republics and to prevent the crisis in Chechnya from become a problem for the Islamic world. Therefore, Moscow needs a trustworthy partner among Muslim countries with Iran as the best candidate because of its high potentials and prominent position in the Middle East and the Islamic world and great regional clout. Therefore, Iran’s position as well as its self-restraint vis-à-vis the situation in Chechnya by calling it an internal affair of Russia, has increased Iran’s significance in the eyes of the Russian politicians.

Afghanistan provides another litmus test for bilateral relations. Following collapse of the Soviet Union, internal conflicts in Afghanistan, which despite previous faceoff between Islam and Communism in the Cold War era were confrontation between moderate and radical forms of Islam, made Russia support moderate tendencies in order to prevent extremism from spilling over to its Muslim-dominated republics. Moderate political parties in Afghanistan were also supported by Iran. Therefore, Afghanistan served as an arena for the promotion of Tehran-Moscow ties. It was more so from 1992 to 2002 when the relationship between Tehran and Moscow was at its climax. In addition to domestic clashes in Afghanistan, which brought Iran and Russia close together, the United States’ positions there constituted another important component affecting Iran-Russia interactions in Afghanistan.

Collaboration with Iran is also important to Russia for solving a number of interlinked issues in the region, including exploitation of oil and other energy resources of the Caspian Sea. On the whole, the two countries’ similar stances on such issues as Chechnya, the situation in Tajikistan, the rule of Taliban, spread of terrorism in the Central Asia and invasion of Iraq by the American forces has kept pace with gradually expanding economic relations between Tehran and Moscow.

International level

Apart from necessities arising from geographical proximity, historical backgrounds as well as economic cooperation and regional rivalries, both countries are especially important in international politics. Some analysts maintain that Iran’s relations with Russia are function of Russia’s strategic considerations at international level. They maintain that such issues as US unilateralism and eastward spread of NATO have increased Russia’s concerns about possible international isolation.

Active ImageTherefore, they have been trying to expand relations with Iran to maintain their country’s position as a superpower. Even nuclear cooperation with Iran is in line with increasing Russia’s bargaining power at international level and is aimed to increase that country’s influence and ability to oppose US efforts by restricting Washington’s maneuvering room at international level. An important reason for international cooperation between Iran and Russia at international level is to curb US influence. Both countries are concerned about US hegemony and both of them are averse to growing US influence in the region, considering it a serious threat to their national security. Therefore, close cooperation between Iran and Russia is a strategic response to US efforts to further its influence in the region. As such, Russia prefers the existing Iran over an Iran which would be in line with western policies.

Russia has been trying since disintegration of the Soviet Union to make the world believe that it is still a superpower. Therefore, cooperation with Iran, above economic interests and even more than its impact as counterbalance to US efforts will offer Russia with an opportunity to stabilize its international position as a superpower and act independently in regulating its international and regional policies.

Globalization is another common ground for collaboration between the two countries. Many Iranian and Russian experts and politicians believe that globalization process will finally lead to domination of western values over non-western societies. Common concerns about consequences of globalization have led to theoretical convergence between Iranian and Russia thinkers and politicians.

On the whole, due to its geopolitical and geostrategic position as well as in view of rich natural resources, the Islamic Republic of Iran is of high importance to Russia in its efforts to meet economic interests. It is also important to Russia for management of regional and international crises it faces and to end isolation and increase its regional weight. As long as Russia is willing to increase its bargaining power at international level and successfully deal with regional crises, Moscow will have no choice, but to work with Iran and maintain bilateral relations.

Translated By: Iran Review

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