Russia and Iran to stay friends, but alliance unlikely

A group photo during a press event after a new round of Nuclear Iran Talks in the Learning Center at the Swiss federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Source: AP

A group photo during a press event after a new round of Nuclear Iran Talks in the Learning Center at the Swiss federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Source: AP

While Russia has lauded the political framework agreement to regulate Iran’s nuclear program as a victory for the political and diplomatic approach that Moscow has always advocated, opinion is divided about the future of Russian-Iranian relations after the sanctions are lifted.

Welcoming the outcome, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that at the talks in Lausanne between Iran and "The Six" (five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) "a political framework agreement for the final regulation of the situation regarding Iran's nuclear program (INP) was successfully agreed upon."

Moscow believes that this agreement is a triumph for the political and diplomatic approach to solving international problems, which the Russian Federation has always advocated. However, analysts believe that the European Union, not Russia, will receive the greatest benefit from the agreement.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry considers the deal arrived at by "The Six" and Iran as a victory for the diplomatic approach to resolving international problems, which Moscow has pushed. The Russian Foreign Ministry noted that all the subsequent steps will be taken by the parties based on the principles of gradualism and reciprocity, proposed by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Moscow expects that Tehran will be able to play a more active role in resolving regional problems and conflicts after the agreement on the INP has been reached.

Meanwhile, Russian analysts are divided about the future of Russia-Iran relations after the UN and US-led sanctions are lifted.

Alexander Kuznetsov, an expert at the Institute of Forecasting and Political Regulation said in an interview with RIR that, “the conclusion of an agreement on the INP does not affect Russia’s international image, as the Iranians held talks primarily with the USA this past year and Russia, though it was part of “The Six,” was occupied with other issues.”

However, in his opinion, the fears now sounded in Moscow over the possibility of a rapprochement between the USA and Iran are premature.

“Though (US President Barack) Obama is interested in détente with Iran, his administration pursues a policy of containing Iranian expansion,” said Kuznetsov.

At the same time, Kuznetsov does not expect any rapid development of Russian-Iranian relations after the signing of this agreement.

"There is currently political cooperation between Russia and Iran. Senior Iranian officials come regularly to Moscow. The RF provides military and technical assistance to Iran. The countries are cooperating in helping (Syrian President Bashar) Assad. But it is premature to speak of a strategic partnership,” he said. “The Iranians have grounds for dissatisfaction. For example, Iran is trying to enter into the SCO but Russia is not doing much to help, because Kazakhstan and China are against it,” Kuznetsov said.

The greatest dividends from the agreement will accrue to the EU.

According to Kuznetsov, there are also deterrents for bilateral cooperation in the economic sphere.

"Russia did not take advantage of the time when sanctions were in place to strengthen its position in Iran, and now there will be little opportunity because of the competition from the US and China,” he said. “We will only be needed in some areas – nuclear energy, railroads, electricity. The EU gains most from the agreement," said Kuznetsov.

If the sanctions are lifted from Iran, Russia will have to compete with Western countries in Iran, and Iran will have “more room to maneuver,” Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy told Gazeta.ru.  

Alexei Arbatov, chief analyst at IMEMO RAS (Institute for World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences) agreed.

“It might be possible to expand economic cooperation, but if we can win in arms sales, then Iran, expanding its ties, can always turn to Japan and the USA on other issues,” Arbatov said.

Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the Caucasus Department at the Institute of CIS Countries, was more optimistic. He told RIR that a window of opportunity is opening for Russia in its relations with Tehran because the sanctions will not be lifted speedily.

“In the fall, construction may begin on another power plant in Bushehr. There is a proposal from the Iranian side regarding the modernization of railways. We are on the verge of expanding military cooperation. Equipment might be supplied for the navy and air force, as well as for the modernization of air defence,” Yevseyev said, and “joint exercises and personnel training will be held,” he said, outlining the opportunities.

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