Islamic Iran’s options in dealing with Russia

Developing Just Leadership

Maksud Djavadov

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 1431 2010-06-01

News & Analysis

by Maksud Djavadov (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1431)

Some Iranian politicians mistakenly viewed Russia through the prism of the former USSR and assumed that Russia was an independent player in the international arena.

Russia’s support for the latest round of US-engineered sanctions, passed on June 9 against Islamic Iran at the UN Security Council, can be seen as a blessing in disguise for Tehran. Russia’s subordination to the strategic goals of the US, which is to eliminate theIslamic government in Iran at any cost, has clarified Iran-Russia relations. It has also cleared the simplistic perspective that Iran and Russia were somehow strategic allies. Until now Russia and Iran could not clearly define their relationship, but Russian support for the latest round of anti-Iran sanctions and President Ahmedinejad’s warning to Russia clearly shows that Iran and Russia do not share a common vision of the world.

Some Iranian politicians mistakenly viewed Russia through the prism of the former USSR and assumed that Russia was an independent player in the international arena. In order to foster a long-term alliance with Moscow and to demonstrate good will, Iran refused to compete with Russia in many areas. Tehran assumed that after the collapse of the USSR, Russia would reinvent itself as a new and independent power. Moscow however, did not aim to become an independent player because it has no system to sustain itself from being subservient to the US-designed global order. Russian society and its political elites realized the system based on communism that they wanted to propose as an alternative global structure was a sham. Collapse of the USSR created a deep-seated identity crisis in Russia and an inferiority complex, from which Russia will not recover in its current borders.

Ever since the USSR collapsed, Russian society and its political elites are striving hard to integrate Russia more deeply into the Western system. Russia chose its political destiny to be that of post-WWII Germany. Russia wants to be a subservient state to the current global order and be treated as an important vassal of the global system. The difference between Russia of the 1990s and today is that present-day Russia has simply put a higher price for its subservience and is striving to secure a higher price for its subordination to the US. Russia sees its strategic purpose in being part of the current US dominated global order. It will, therefore, not form a strategic alliance with those that are aiming to free the world from the clutches of the current oppressive order.

After decades of trying to understand Russia’s position, Islamic Iran has finally realized that it cannot wait for Russia to rediscover itself so Iran made a strategic move. Islamic Iran along with emerging Muslim power Turkey and quasi-revolutionary Brazil created a strategic precedence, showing to the world that when things are done free from Western interference, better results are achieved. A nuclear deal reached between Iran, Turkey and Brazil on May 17 underlined Iran’s foreign policy to be oriented primarily toward giving voice to the oppressed. By agreeing to a Brazilian-Turkish nuclear deal, Iran facilitated a new environment that set a precedence for the formation of new centers of power.

One of the key differences between a nuclear deal reached in May 2010 and the one offered to Iran in October 2009 is that the third party involved is not Russia, but Turkey. The Iranian agreement to the Brazilian offer showed that Iran is not going to play the game dictated by global hegemons, no matter where they are located: east, west or north. The agreement showed that Iran would not become Russia’s bargaining chip.

Russia realizes that by losing Iran as its associate, it will lose an important bargaining leverage against the West. Therefore, it will attempt to calm Iran down through minor compromises. However, Islamic Iran must not allow itself to be dragged back into a tactical deal with Russia; instead Tehran must force Russia into an alliance with itself. Islamic Iran must actively lobby Turkey and the EU countries to facilitate an opportunity to free Europe from its dependency on Russian gas and other energy products. Iran and Turkey must cooperate in lobbying each EU member state separately and propose several methods of delivering gas to the EU, bypassing Russia. This offer will also create a gap between some EU countries, which are desperate for alternative sources of gas, and the US.

Iran must also begin advancing its legitimate interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia by eliminating already weak Russian enclaves of power there. Tajikistan and Azerbaijan would be the most suitable places to start. Russia is sensitive and much more vulnerable than it seems in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. However, Iran must refrain from venturing into the North Caucasus and reserve this option only as a last resort. If Iran were to enter the North Caucasus too soon it would trigger a strong Russian reaction. Iran also lacks a genuine support base in the North Caucasus since opposition to Russia there is dominated by takfiri-minded groups.

Whatever leverages Iran decides to use against Russia, it must do so with speed and accuracy. These leverages must make Russian subordination to US polices costly for Moscow. However, at present Iran must keep in mind that the main purpose of its pressure against Russia is to deter it from blindly following the US line. This would be sufficient for now and would make Moscow realize that its anti-Iran policies are not cost-free.

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