By: Soheil Kheiri *
Tehran-Moscow relations are poised to enter into a historic phase under the current circumstances and given the two countries’ ups and downs in history.
Throughout the past several months, Iran and Russia have stepped up efforts to deepen their ties. The recent Moscow visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, holding the first Iran-Russia strategic relations meeting in Moscow, the Tehran visits of the Russian ministers of defense and energy and, above all, the visit by senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati to submit the message of President Rouhani to Russian President Vladimir Putin are but examples that make the mutual efforts by the two countries to enhance their ties evident.
By sending Velayati, the Supreme Leader’s advisor in international affairs, to Moscow as his special messenger, Rouhani meant to convey to Russians that the Leader has thrown his weight on enhancing ties with Kremlin and that the move enjoys the backing of the Islamic establishment’s highest political decision-makers.
Now the question is: Why should Iran be seeking enhanced ties with Russia?
1. The sitting administration in Iran took office with promises of bolstering foreign relations and international status of the country in a bid to allay the nation’s political and economic concerns. To that effect, Rouhani has spent most of his energy on resolving Iran’s nuclear issue in the talks with the group of P5+1, while the outcome of the talks have disproved being worth his endeavors so far. As the talks drag on and US sticks to its sanctions against Iran, hopes for reaching a final nuclear agreement flare up inside Iran, and the administration has embarked on its Plan B to resolve the nation’s economic problems.
Enhancement of ties with Russia tells the West, especially the US, that the Islamic Republic has a firm Plan B and it would adhere to if the talks fail. It also says that Iran has not limited all its efforts to the future of the talks. “If they [P5+1 negotiators with Iran] fail to make such an agreement, the people of Iran, officials, the honorable administration and others have many different options. They should definitely take these options so that they can counteract and slow the plot of imposing sanctions,” said Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in speech he delivered on February 8, 2015 in a meeting with commanders and personnel of the Air Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army.
2. Taking office of a moderate president in Iran has raised hopes for the peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear case with the West. This has stoked Kremlin with fears that more pressure will be put on Russia if Iran’s relations with the West normalize. Iran’s decision to raise interactions and enhance ties with Russia can quell its worries in this regard.
3. In its new approach, Iran has tried to exploit Russia’s dispute with the West in the talks. Dr. Velayati said after his meeting with Putin that new Russian stance in the talks should be expected in the talks.
4. There are several areas where the two countries enjoy common grounds like the crises in Syria and Iraq, opposing US monopoly and Iran’s tender to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Tehran-Moscow cooperation can facilitate these areas.
5. Iran and Russia can severely influence the world energy market. As the two countries’ oil revenues have fallen dramatically thanks to the falling oil prices, which they believe is a political plot hatched jointly by the US and its Middle East ally Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia have been prompted to think out plans to enhance their ties in order to shield their economies against the current and future economic assaults. This was evident when Russian energy minister attended Velayati’s meeting with Putin in Moscow.
All in all, when dealing with Russia, certain points need to be considered:
Iranian decision-makers must be wary of the fact that enhanced relations with Russia must not, under any circumstances, be based on West’s animosity toward the two nations because if this is not the case in the future, Iran will be the side that loses the most. Secondly, Iran must always remember that Kremlin would never prefer Iran over Western allies.
* Soheil Kheiri has an M.A in Eurasian studies from the School of International Relations of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. His articles about the Russian politics are published in the scientific journals and he regularly writes for Iranian newspapers and political magazines.