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«Russo-Iranian Relations and the Vienna Nuclear Agreement Lana Ravandi-Fadai | Nov 2015 Russo-Iranian Relations and the Vienna Nuclear Agreement* ...»

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Russo-Iranian Relations and the Vienna

Nuclear Agreement

Lana Ravandi-Fadai | Nov 2015

Russo-Iranian Relations and the Vienna Nuclear Agreement*

Series: Research Paper

Lana Ravandi - Fadai| Nov 2015

Copyright © 2015 Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. All Rights Reserved.


The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies is an independent research institute

and think tank for the study of history and social sciences, with particular emphasis on the applied social sciences.

The Center’s paramount concern is the advancement of Arab societies and states, their cooperation with one another and issues concerning the Arab nation in general. To that end, it seeks to examine and diagnose the situation in the Arab world - states and communities- to analyze social, economic and cultural policies and to provide political analysis, from an Arab perspective.

The Center publishes in both Arabic and English in order to make its work accessible to both Arab and non-Arab researchers.

Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies PO Box 10277 Street No. 826, Zone 66 Doha, Qatar Tel.: +974 44199777 | Fax: +974 44831651 www.dohainstitute.org * This paper was presented at the ACRPS Russo-Arab Relations Conference, held in Doha on May 23-24, 2015.

Table of Contents


Introduction Russo-Iranian relations have undergone a series of often-erratic ups and downs.

Looking at the period since the Islamic Revolution, a number of periods can be drawn out, each marked by a series of competing trends and alliances that ebb and flow depending on shifting internal and external actors. It is the same set of politics within which the outcome of the Vienna Nuclear Agreement can be read, in terms of the future of Russo-Iranian relations.

The First Shifts Russia’s first significant test of bilateral relations with Iran in recent history was the Islamic Revolution of 1978-1979. The revolution led to a cooling of affairs with the new Islamic Republic, whose northern border was at the time shared with that of the former United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). Given the republic’s eager engagement with an early policy of exporting revolution, the USSR had perhaps reason to distance itself from a country that proclaimed itself “neither West nor East but an Islamic Republic.” Soviet foreign policy moves were also provocative, particularly the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and financial and technical support afforded to Iraq during its war with Iran in 1980-1988.

Only towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war did relations with the Soviet Union begin to improve. The first meetings on economic ties and trade agreements took place between 1986-1988. This was paralleled with an increase in friendly rhetoric between the nations, started by a statement from Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Mikhail Gorbachev where the former publically expressed his hope for future cooperation between the two countries. This set the upswing in relations into top gear, reaching its peak during the visit of the Iranian Speaker of Parliament Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani to Moscow in 1989, when a long-term agreement on economic and technical cooperation


was signed worth $10 billion (all dollar figures in USD).2 This agreement was multifaceted, it included an accord on the delivery of Iranian natural gas to the USSR and the delivery of Soviet made equipment and automobiles to Iran; assistance measures in the construction of industrial and agricultural complexes in Iran; promoting trade circulation and the construction of a railroad between Tejen-Serakhs-Mashhad; as well as clauses on cooperation in training and technology development, culture, and sports.

For example, provisions for cooperation in the field of radio and television, medicine, locust control and other programs.3 After the disintegration of the USSR, bilateral relations between Russia and Iran deepened. As Russia abandoned its Soviet atheistic ideology and adopted a more pragmatic approach to foreign affairs it was no longer seen as a potential threat, especially to Iranian territorial integrity. This was, in particular, first because Russia was preoccupied with its own internal problems, and second because the two countries no longer shared a common border. For these reasons, good relations seemed somewhat less critical and therefore easier to cultivate. Meetings between state officials of both countries became more frequent, and each country enjoyed an enhanced economic presence on the other’s markets. Security and geopolitical concerns continued to play a serious role in the official relationships, but in a more collaborative vein: Russia, without the Soviet Union’s vast swaths of “buffer territory” and also without its influence, found itself in need of allies to help maintain stability along its borders.

Karami J. “Iran-Russia Relations: Expectations and Realities,” Iranian Quarterly. Vol. 9, Nos. 3-4, Fall 2010-Winter 2011.

Arunova, M.R. “The Islamic Revolution and Russo-Iranian Relations,” in The East and Modernity, № 21.

Moscow: 2004. p. 178.


To a certain extent, Iran was able to fulfill this role as it continued to exert influence on its neighboring countries despite its international isolation. This continued into the next decade, and although Iran and Russia engaged in some geopolitical rivalry throughout the 1990s, particularly in Central Asia, this did not hinder their cooperation, especially when faced with external threats.

An Uncertain Future

Though relations were expected to have strengthened in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, they developed unevenly over the following 23 years. Where some issues were met with mutual accord, others caused disagreement, with the latter being more frequent. The 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin Protocols are an apt example of the faltering relations. Under the agreements, Russia was meant to terminate technological and military cooperation with Iran by the year 2000. Then, in 1998, under pressure from Washington, Russia backed off its agreement to provide Iran with a research nuclear reactor.4 On the Iranian side, in July 1999, Iran’s Guardian Council vetoed a RussoIranian joint initiative between the nations’ law enforcement bodies, even though the Parliament had already approved the deal.5 This wavering of relations on the surface was guided by a complex array of internal, external, international, and regional factors.

These factors pulled Russia and Iran in separate directions. An alignment of interests saw relations change for the better.

In the 1990's flare-ups of armed resistance from ethnic separatist movements gave Russia and Iran united interests. At the same time, the nations implemented a Trofimov, A. “An Analysis of Views on the Governance of Iran and Russian Perspectives in the Region.” Institute for the Study of Israel and the Middle East. April 10, 2003, http://www.iimes.ru/rus/stat/2003/10-04-03.htm Kazeev, K. “Oversight Council Rejects Draft Law.” ITAR-TASS. P-08 CK956. July 22, 1999


simultaneous round of economic “shock therapy,” which led to increasing social tensions. Cooperation saw Iran decline to support Chechen separatists during the first and second Chechen conflicts in the North Caucasus, and lobby to soften the antiRussian position taken by nations throughout the Near and Middle East. Iran's role in mediating the Tajik civil conflict of the 1990s cemented the renewal of relations.6 The next milestone in Russo-Iranian relations was the official visit of then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to Moscow in March 2001. This visit resulted in a signed agreement detailing the basis of cooperation and mutual relations between the two countries. The agreement, “An Agreement Regarding the Foundations for Reciprocal Relations and the Principles for Cooperation” was one of several important documents expanding ties between the nations from economics, to training, to sport, coming into force on April 5, 2002. The signing initiated a series of bilateral meetings between Presidents Putin and Khatami, first at the “Millennium Summit” (New York, September 2000), then at the Caspian Summit in Turkmenistan (April 2002) and once more during the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Summit in Malaysia (October 2003).7

New Factors

This fruitful period came to an end between 2002 and 2005, when Russo-Iranian relations were hindered by Western anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program. Russia's cooperation with Iran attracted increasing criticism, and the election of Mahmud Ahmadinejad as Iranian President in 2005 further aggravated relations between the two countries.

–  –  –

The policies and rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad provoked increasingly negative reactions in the West and renewed attempts to pressure Russia into taking a tougher position vis-a-vis Iran. In late 2006, Said Shariati, one of Iran's foremost political

thinkers, characterized the situation thus:

“Russia cannot oppose the United States in the Middle East, and this is why Russia needs good relations with Iran so it can present a united front against the Americans.

But Russia can play the Iranian card only for so long. Some here are of the opinion that if the West uses the Islamic Republic of Iran as a bargaining chip then Russia could change its attitude toward our country. I think this is what will happen, because relations with United States are more important to Russia than relations with Iran.”8 Despite the pressure, Russia blocked American attempts to impose harsh sanctions on Iran for some time. The shift, Russian sources insist, stemmed from Iran’s subsequent failure to take significant steps to demonstrate its readiness to maintain a dialogue with the international community regarding its nuclear program. While Russia was reassuring its Western colleagues regarding the undeclared aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran was secretly working on the construction of the nuclear facility in Fordow. More than once, the Iranians scuttled a near deal in which Russia would have supplied Iran with enriched uranium. Perhaps these factors ultimately pushed Russia in 2010 to support UN Security Council resolution № 1929 on sanctions against Iran, and to refuse to supply Tehran with S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems. As a defensive weapon, the S-300, is not formally covered by the sanctions, thus international media was rife with speculation about the motives for Moscow's refusal to fulfill its contract. One source claimed the Russian government made the decision at the personal request of Israeli Interview with Said Shariati, member of the political commission of the “Masharekyat” political party, conducted by Nikita Filin in Tehran, December 27, 2006. Published in “The Social-historic Development of the Islamic Republic of Iran (1979-2008): Factors of Stability in State Power.” Appendix 1. Moscow: 2012, p. 244.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in exchange promised to stop supplying Georgia with Israeli arms. There is an alternative view, however, among some observers that Russia and the United States made a tacit agreement by which Washington promised not to interfere with Russia's WTO accession in exchange for Moscow's refusal to sell Tehran the anti-aircraft system.9 Underscoring the unstable relations was the scrapping of a plan for the formation of a natural gas consortium between Iran, Russia and Qatar due to outside pressure. In April 2007 a meeting of gas-exporting countries in Qatar approved a plan for coordinating export policies. This was the start of what might have been increased cooperation, and was indeed followed by a November 2008 meeting in Moscow between Russia, Iran and Qatar, where the establishment of a joint-enterprise for natural gas extraction in Iran and its liquefaction in Qatar for offer on international markets was announced. The deal was railroaded, however, by a resolution from the American congress threatening legal action against any state attempting to realize an international natural gas consortium along the lines of OPEC. One of the results has been the continuation of “gas wars” between Russia, its transit partners and consumers, while Iran remains denied a potential market for its own natural gas resources, which rank second only to Russia in terms of world reserves (16%).

Today, the maintenance of cold ties between the countries is aided in part because Russia receives some benefits from the partial economic and political isolation of Iran.

Notwithstanding the negative impact of sanctions on trade and economic relations between the two countries, the absence of virtually all Western companies on the Iranian market has greatly reduced the level of competition for Russian companies Currently, with US-Russian relations in tatters and sanctions on Iran seemingly soon to be lifted, there have been media reports of plans to go ahead with the S-300 sale, although it remains to be seen to what extent such talk is political leveraging or a serious consideration, and to what extant third party countries would move to block such a sale if indeed being seriously considered.


there. Among Russian companies doing business in Iran after 2010 are OJSC Power Machines, Kamaz, GAZ Group and others.10 However, despite the complicated situation of Russian acquiescence to sanctions against Iran, Moscow and Tehran adopted a common position on a number of regional issues in 2012. First and foremost, they both seek to maintain peace and stability in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan.

Old Battles

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