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Iran commentator analyzes Iran-Russia ties in last two centuries 9 novembre 2007

Posted by Acturca in History / Histoire, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Russia / Russie.
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BBC Monitoring Middle East, November 1, 2007 Thursday

Mohammad Hoseyn Adeli, E’temad, Tehran *

It seems that the most important characteristic in the relations between Iran and Russia – at least – within the last two centuries could be summarized in three significant features of distrust, acting and competition.

1- Since the wars of the first three decades in the 19th century which resulted in Golestan Treaty in 1813 and Torkamanchay Treaty in 1828 – as a result of these treaties, unfair and difficult compensations were imposed on Iran – the wall of mistrust and pessimism was built between the two countries of Russia and Iran. Russia’s interferences and influence in Qajar’s court also added to the height and width of this wall, particularly at the time of Mohammad Shah and Mohammad Ali Shah.

The popular riot against Russia where people attacked the Russian embassy and killed Gribayedoff and his aides, was the manifestation of people’s sentiments against Russia and the shameful Torkamanchay Treaty. The Iranian nation has not yet forgotten its difficult defeat against Russia and the Golestan and Torkamanchay treaties and has always thought about its separated lands with much envy.

The subsequent developments in Russia, namely the occurrence of the Bolshevic revolution and the transformation of Russia to the Soviet Union based on a Communist system did not help to reduce this negative perception, because while the Soviet Union claimed to be fighting against imperialism, it did not shy away from its obvious interests for expanding its influence around the world and particularly in Iran. In other words, neither an ideological change nor the transformation of a Tsarist Russia into a socialist republic created any change in the priorities and national and international interests of that country. The Soviet Union – like the Tsarist Russia – always regarded Iran as a country that must come under its influence.

During the Pahlavi era, the occupation of Iran by the military power of the Allies including the Soviet Union and Britain (and later America) and Russian army’s refusal to withdraw from Azerbaijan and the obvious interest of that country for occupying other parts of our country added to the previous wounds. Helping the formation of the satellite Tudeh Party, open interferences in political developments and playing a damaging role in the very vital and sensitive moments of our country are among the other negative examples in the résumé of Russia before the Iranian people. But perhaps the darkest page of this résumé is the silence of Russia and the Tudeh Party against the American coup of 28 Mordad 1332 [19 August 1953] and accepting the collapse of Dr Mosaddeq’s government. No wonder why later on, even those who were adopting Marxist ideologies tried to distinguish between themselves and the treacherous Tudeh Party.

2- Although following the occurrence of the Islamic Revolution, the relations between the two countries have been faced with many ups and downs, yet the level of distrust has not been reduced. From this point of view, the relations between both countries during the era of the Islamic Revolution could be divided into a number of parts.

  • First part – the very deep developments caused by the Islamic Revolution and the period of people’s passion and sentiments.
  • Second part – the period of the Iraq war against Iran
  • Third part – the 90s and the government of [Boris] Yeltsin
  • Fourth part – the years since 2000 and the period of Vladimir Putin’s government

In all these periods, the course and direction of occurrences and developments have been in a way that has not been able to eliminate the root problems. Perhaps, the Islamic Revolution of Iran could be seen as the biggest political occurrence in the vicinity of the Soviet Union amid the height of this country’s rivalry with the United States of America. Suddenly, a pro-American country was turned into an anti-American state. As a result, not only did Iran abandon its opposition against the Soviet Union – an opposition which was the product of a relative unity with America – but it also joined the Soviet Union in its anti-imperialist mottos and in some cases preceded the Soviet Union. Although, this development was a costless triumph for the Soviet Union, rather than seizing the new opportunity to restore relations between the two countries, the Soviet Union suddenly attacked Afghanistan and occupied that country and simultaneously sought to expand its influence in the Islamic Iran. In other words, the occurrence of the revolution in Iran could not persuade the Soviet Union to rethink its strategic objectives in Iran.

Also during the Iran-Iraq war, while the Russians were witnessing the Iranians resisting on their own against the West and defending their territorial integrity and Islamic identity, they chose not to withhold their support for Iraq. In return, they refused to provide any assistance to our country. The Soviet T72 tanks and their MIG-29 jet fighters were used against us and Iran was largely deprived from advanced Soviet military equipments. Only after the end of the war and following Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s trip to the Soviet Union – where he met [Mikhail] Gorbachev – a new chapter was created in the military cooperation of both countries. Therefore, the war period is not considered as having had a positive development in the relations of Russia and Iran.

The third period, meaning the period of Yeltsin’s rule, must be considered as the time of Russia’s leaning towards America. In this period, the relations between Iran and Russia did not experience a significant development and no strategic, political or even economic occurrence took place between the two countries. This was a time that the Russian image before the Iranian eyes could have improved and the tall wall of mistrust could have been demolished. Although this period is seen as Russia’s period of change and transition, Russia’s cooperation with the United States was a major concern for Iran. Based on this, the mistrust remained as one of the significant characteristics in the relations between the two countries.

Putin’s era is seen as the period of rebuilding the identity and directions of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. Of course it needs to be taken into consideration that this reconstruction is owed to two developments; one is the September 11 incidents – on which Putin surfed very well – and the other was the Iranian nuclear issue, thanks to which Russia could relatively materialize the dream of being a great world power in the international arena by playing an admirable role [over Iran’s nuclear dispute]. Now, the continuation of this period is a great test for the relations of the two countries. How successful Russia would be in this test depends on the future. Putin’s trip to Tehran is an opportunity for both hopefulness and hopelessness.

3- Iran’s anti-American positions are among the most important of our country’s political cards against Russia. Although these positions cannot be compromised from an ideological perspective, they are not of any special political value for interaction with others. Yet it should be acknowledged that when the issue of [the Iranian] system’s life and strategic interests are at stake, it is necessary to stand firm on them. Even if we portray ourselves as negligent from an independent point of view and consider our positions as an evident matter, it is the duty of the other side to be appreciative of the very high value of our beliefs and show an appropriate reaction towards them.

In response to the question as to « whether anything else was more dangerous for you than a nuclear Iran? » one of the senior officials of Russia’s national security [council] has been quoted as saying « Yes, an Iran which would be the friend of America ». Openly stating such a comment is very rare and Russia has always tried to avoid admitting it. But, in any case, it is a serious reality that should never be neglected by Russian officials, particularly at the current sensitive juncture. Now that Putin on the one hand is thinking of remaining in Russia’s political structure and on the other hand is endeavouring to revive the dreams of his country’s great power, he should know that Iran’s anti-American position and even its stance on having no alliance [with America] is a gift that Russia could exploit. It is only enough for Russia to take Azerbaijan into consideration which has been one of the republics in the former Soviet Union and has now opened a foothold for America near Russia and to realize the value of a great country like Iran for its resistance and independence against the United States.

Iran has always been the card for Russia’s internationalization. In fact, Iran is Russia’s most important gate to the world of international power and the economic market. Using the Iranian card, Russia has been able to play with this card throughout the centuries and to be seen as an important world power. Countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, etc, that are all seen as Russia’s natural allies have never been able to provide a global position for Russia in the politics of power. Playing with the Iranian card against other countries, particularly against America is very important for Russia. There is no doubt that Putin has skilfully been able to exploit the Iranian nuclear case in line with internationalizing its role and placing itself among the partners for large international deals.

The experience of the last few years has shown that Russia has been able to gain concessions from America and other western countries in relation to any stances taken against Iran. On the one hand, Russia has shown itself as sharing the baseless western concerns about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and based on this, it has been absolutely cautious in its cooperation with Iran and on the other hand it continues to portray itself as the supporter of Iran by opposing any military action against our country. Frankly speaking, it has sold the first stance to the West and the second one to Iran.

The good prudence and skill of Putin is exactly hidden in the point that he can sell one nuclear position to two major customers at the same time and hit two birds with one stone. The completion of Bushehr nuclear power plant project is delayed under various financial pretexts so that it would give Putin the opportunity to sell his positions to the West. The same analysis could be employed about the supply of fuel to Bushehr nuclear plant which should have been given to Iran around last Esfand [month beginning on 20 February 2007] and is still not supplied.

This is while, because of its good natural situation such as its reliance on proud people, a decent history and civilization, a very important geographical and geopolitical situation and also scarce mineral wealth, Iran is principally an international country and its developments and affairs affect the international community. Therefore, our country must realize well the value of its card in the global game of power and exploit it at the appropriate time. This card can be used without ideological considerations and within a pragmatic framework and to the benefit of our national interests.

4- The last point is that in recent years, Russia has used its energy policy as an important tool in advancing its foreign policy. Russia’s oil and gas has been the jumping platform of this country for strengthening its position in Europe and around the world. That’s why, Russia is carefully watching the movements of other countries which have oil and gas resources like Iran. In a more realistic term, Russia considers Iran as its rival in the field of energy. Russia is concerned about the possibility of Iran becoming an option for the supply of gas to Europe. If Europe was to think of a competitor for Russia’s supply of gas, that competitor could not be any country other than Iran which has the second largest gas reserves in the world.

Russia also sees itself as a competitor on the issue of Iran’s gas pipeline to Pakistan and India. Any cooperation and energy deal with countries such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia is also a reminder of a competitive atmosphere. The story of Iran’s gas export to Armenia and the purchase of all the gas network of that country by Gazprom is an example of this competitive but hidden atmosphere. Therefore, Iran and Russia enjoy a single [similar] atmosphere in terms of energy and the effect of this competition can be seen in many of the projects where Iran is interested to have a presence in them.

Also Russia’s interest to play the leading role in transferring gas to Europe through Turkey and the Nabuku [not sure about the spelling] pipeline should be seen through the same angle. The equations of Gazprom in Hungary – as one of the members of Nabuku – in order to dominate the energy network of this country or the efforts that are being made for influence in Austria’s OMV are all aimed at making sure that Europe would not be free from Russia’s claws and other countries like Iran would be deprived from playing a role in this field.

From what has been said, it can be concluded that among the major characteristics in the relations of Iran and Russia, there are three phenomena of distrust, acting and competition, each of which would have a clearer appearance in various periods depending on the circumstances and events of the time.

As for the first phenomenon, meaning the distrust, Russia is the main side to blame and it should gradually reduce the level of this distrust by its appropriate behaviour. Cooperation and respecting the contracts and agreements are the most evident measures in this regard. It is hoped that Putin’s pledges and agreements during his visit to Tehran would be implemented one after the other and that Russia could come out of this test successfully.

Our country is certainly in such circumstances that would very much appreciate Russia’s loyalty. However, Russia and Putin’s disloyalty to their commitments would definitely expand and deepen the rift of mistrust.

But as for the issue of Russia playing with the Iranian card and even Russia’s competition with Iran in the field of energy, the responsibility of this task must be divided between Russia, the West and Iran. Here the share of America is more than Iran and Russia because of its inappropriate positions and illogical enmity with the Islamic Revolution and the Iranian system. One could not complain about Russia’s share, as this country is intending to promote its position and power within a pragmatic paradigm. Then, Iran is left to managing the situation and ability to create moderation and balance to its benefit, which is the dream and prayer of all Iranians.

* Text of editorial by Mohammad Hoseyn Adeli headlined: « Distrust, acting and competition » published by Iranian newspaper E’temad website on 29 October

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