Source: Drawing by Andrey Popov
Conservative American analysts in think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation often view Russia as a tacit ally of Iran, turning a blind eye to its dangerous nuclear programme and ignoring the Iranian regime’s aggressive form of Islamist fundamentalism.
Israeli government officials, when visiting Moscow, persistently point to the
divergence of Russia’s national interests with those of Iran, citing Russia’s
own troubles with Islamist fundamentalism in the North Caucasus and, earlier,
in Central Asia and Afghanistan. Obviously pursuing their country’s national
interest, those Israeli officials believe in the possibility of a return to the
very cold peace that existed between the Soviet Union and Iran in the Eighties,
when Moscow was very wary of the effect of Ayatollah Khomeini’s teachings on
its Muslim minorities.
So what is the Russian authorities’ attitude now? And where does Russia’s
national interest in the Iranian question lie? The truth is that the Kremlin
has been sending out a whole array of signals on the issue, some of which are
contradictory. On the one hand, Russia
stopped selling or transiting any kind of weapons to Iran, fulfilling UN resolution
1929, which was adopted in June 2010. This meant cancelling the contract to
ship S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran,
which could have helped the Iranians to challenge Israel’s superiority in the air. On
the other hand, Russia
finished the construction of the nuclear power station in Bushehr. Where is the
Actually, the logic is very simple: Russia
is concerned about Iran’s
nuclear programme. It has no sympathy for Islamist fundamentalism but,
considering Iran is right
next to Russia’s border and
to the borders of Azerbaijan,
a former Soviet republic with a several million-strong Azeri minority in Iran,
it is extremely keen to avoid a war breaking out on its doorstep. It is not too
difficult to guess in which direction the Azeri minority would flee from Iran in the
event of it being turned into a war zone. Azeris are already the biggest Muslim
minority in Russia.
Hence Russia’s strong desire
to see Iran
at peace with other countries and to have a peaceful nuclear programme.
Incidentally, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a
signatory, obliges nuclear powers to help non-nuclear countries to develop the
peaceful use of atomic energy. The balancing act between Iran and the West, which Russia has to
perform, however, is becoming more and more difficult. It should be said that Iran has shown remarkable restraint in its
reaction to a number of regional wars in which Russia has been a party in recent
years. Unlike certain Western circles, Iran
never provided help to anti-Russian mudjaheddin in Afghanistan
or to the Chechen rebels, and it stayed largely neutral in the conflict between
Armenia and Azerbaijan,
despite an obvious temptation to show solidarity with its
Tehran’s restraint in Russia-
related issues is ever more laudable, since Iran
historically has had little positive sentiment about Russia. Modern Azerbaijan had for centuries been a part of the
Iranian empire, and Georgia
was in its zone of influence until the Russian tsars wrestled the territories
away from Iran
in the early 19th century. In his childhood, Ayatollah Khomeini was a witness
to the joint Soviet-British occupation of Iran in 1941. But despite the
troubled history, Iran’s
rhetoric on Russia
is in most cases less critical than that of some members of the EU .
The recent Western interventions in Iraq,
and even more recently in Libya,
make Russia suspicious of
what lies behind Western hostility towards Iran. Iranian restraint in Afghanistan and the Caucasus makes Russians
somewhat sceptical about the information on Iran’s
support for extremists in the Middle East – a region which is becoming more and
more distanced and estranged from Russia. Hence Russia’s unwillingness to see Iran condemned and punished by the
West according to the Iraqi or Libyan scenario.
Dmitry Babich is a political analyst at RIA Novosti.
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