Russia, Iran and the “near abroad”

Developing Just Leadership

Our Eurasia Correspondent

Ramadan 14, 1436 2015-07-01

News & Analysis

by Our Eurasia Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 5, Ramadan, 1436)

How Islamic Iran should deal with Russia is the subject of this analysis in which a realistic assessment of the reality is called for.

Over the past six years Crescent International (CI) has dedicated a great deal of time researching and studying the political, economic and security relations between the Russian Federation, Islamic Iran and Moscow’s policies in the Muslim world. In this report we would like to focus on the changing dynamics within our established framework on Russia.

Our evaluation of Russian interaction with Islamic Iran and other Islamic socio-political players led us to define contemporary Russian-Islamic relations within the following framework:

1. Russian involvement in the Muslim East is based primarily on the goals it wishes to pursue in Central Asia and the Caucasus as it views Islamic revival there as a threat and a process that it needs to control tightly;

2. Iran is an important leverage for Russia against the West, nothing more and nothing less;

3. The Russian ruling elite sees itself as a part of the contemporary Western global order and will always do its best to avoid a strategic political and economic confrontation with NATO;

4. Moscow’s policies will take a strategic shift if the West or any other local or regional force were to shake up the status quo in Central Asia and the Caucasus and Russia will do all it can in order to prevent this from happening.

The above outlined framework remains unchanged. Moscow’s halfhearted trade deals and weak implementation of military contracts with Islamic Iran (Russia keeps linking the delivery of S-300 missiles to the Western deal over Iran’s nuclear program) is just the tip of the iceberg that reinforces our perspective on Russia. Those interested in background information can read Crescent International’s previous reports on Russia.

There are two developments taking place that are going to significantly influence the dynamics of our framework. They are: 1) limited Western sanctions against Russia and the ongoing tensions in Ukraine, and 2) potential Iran-West nuclear deal.

NATO’s tensions with Russia are going to drive a wedge between the European Union (EU) and the United States. How wide this gap will be is too early to tell at present. Moscow wants to achieve a similar goal to what Washington accomplished during the Cold War when it created strategic hostilities between China and the USSR.

Tough Russian stand will trigger rough US policies; similarly harsh US action will trigger punitive Russian measures that will primarily affect the EU. In order to protect their interests, the Europeans will pressure Washington to cool things down; the US will refuse as empires in decline are particularly vicious and things will continue to go down the path of tension between the EU and Washington. Only sophisticated Russian socio-political and economic policies can turn these tensions into strategic separation between the EU and the US.

At the moment it is not clear if Moscow has the capability to pull this off. This game is primarily political and economic; security comes later. Moscow’s socio-political performance in Ukraine shows that politically it is quite unsophisticated in its methodology. The political side of the Novorosiya project in Eastern Ukraine is self-unsustainable, the ideology and political mechanisms Russia assisted in creating in Eastern Ukraine are crude and rely mainly on the military to achieve its objectives. Russia lacks indigenous soft-power. The fact that Moscow-backed separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine had to resort to Soviet insignias, songs, political terminology and methodology shows that Moscow has not adopted well to the global realities of 1436ah (2015ce).

The Hudaybiyah type treaty that Islamic Iran and the US are trying to put together over Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program is another major issue that will affect the Russian methodology toward NATO and the wider Islamic world. The current ruling elite in Russia understands well that it needs to keep Islamic Iran on its side in order to challenge NATO on an ad-hoc basis. Islamic Iran understands that it cannot discard Russia after the nuclear deal as the US and its allies have proved untrustworthy.

On October 4, 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that “conditions today are not such when everybody would think that if Russia stops gas supplies tomorrow then this gas would be supplied by Iran; our production is far from this stage yet.” This statement symbolizes a strategic diplomatic support for Russia and a significant political and economic challenge to NATO. Nevertheless, because our evaluation of the contemporary Russian ruling class sees it as Western minded elite, CI’s reading is that at the right time and right price Moscow will put its shallow economic interests above its loose political and security principles. Moscow did it in Libya and Palestine; it is currently doing it in Yemen and its role in Syria is greatly exaggerated.

From the Russian perspective the strategic goal is to make sure that the EU remains dependent on its energy products or at least Russia remains the primary supplier of energy products to Western Europe. To achieve this goal Russia will do all it can to make sure that Central Asian and Iranian energy resources do not reach the EU bypassing Russia. Most probably Moscow will offer to buy Central Asian and Iranian energy resources from them, sell them to the EU on condition that they do not sell it directly to the EU. In fact, Moscow is already implementing this scheme in its mini-version with Iran. Russia is currently buying Iranian oil but due to its halfhearted approach to NATO and Western sanctions, Moscow is finding it difficult to sell Iranian oil. It is having a “hard time” because it does not want a strategic confrontation with the West.

As stated earlier, the only thing that would decrease Moscow’s political stamina in its tensions with NATO would be any crisis bordering its Muslim majority regions where for historical and natural socio-political reasons separatism is still on the agenda. The Western regimes understand this factor and it appears they are flirting with the idea of creating additional headaches for Russia in order to force it to reduce tensions in Europe. It appears that Azerbaijan Republic is the center stage of this leverage at the moment. The West is continually putting pressure on the unelected regime of Ilham Aliyev, not because it does not want him in power, but to simply scare Moscow with threat of a changing status quo. Russia wants to avoid this scenario unless the change in status quo is initiated by Moscow itself and under its total control.

In the aftermath of the attack on the US diplomats in Benghazi in September 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin perhaps subconsciously gave away his thinking on how desperately Russia wants to maintain the status quo. He stated, “We do not support any armed groups that attempt to resolve internal problems through force because we usually cannot clearly understand the ultimate goals of those individuals and hence we always have a disturbing feeling that if such armed groups get support from abroad, the situation can end up in an absolute deadlock. We never know the end goals of these ‘freedom fighters’ and we are concerned that the region could descend into chaos which, indeed, is what is already happening.”

In Ukraine the alteration of status quo did take place because Russia had all the required ingredients to make sure it remains under total control of Moscow. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, Russia lacks the required historical, religious, ethnic, military and political ingredients to initiate change under a similar degree of control as it did in Ukraine. The Russians know it and NATO knows it. The only ones that seem not to fully grasp the fact that contemporary Russia is not the former Soviet Union appear to be some Iranian officials. Based on purely open sources this oblivious Iranian notion creates unnecessary hindrances for Islamic Iran in securing its legitimate interests in Central Asia and the Caucasus. This will be used by the NATO regimes against Russia and Iran. The NATO regimes will try to make sure that Iran and Russia clash in Central Asia and the Caucasus once the nuclear Hudaybiyah is concluded.

How can Islamic Iran and Russia avoid this? Start talking about the inevitable changes that will sweep across Central Asia and the Caucasus in the near future. Russia alone cannot maintain the status quo for long. The West is not interested in the status quo in Central Asia and the Caucasus unless Russia backs down in Ukraine and changes its policies in its energy relations with the EU. Iran cannot depend on others to secure its interests and remain as inactive as it is today in its immediate neighborhood. Without Russian-Iranian discussion on Central Asia and the Caucasus that must include the people of those regions and grass roots movements, NATO’s chaos generating policies will be almost impossible to counter.

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