সরাসরি প্রধান সামগ্রীতে চলে যান

Iran ‒ Russia relation: competition, cooperation or strategic alliance?

Iran ‒ Russia relation: competition, cooperation or strategic alliance?






Nure Alam Masud







January 20, 2019


This paper is submitted to Javad Keypour as part of the course “Introduction to Caspian Studies” taught at Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia in the semester Autumn 2018/2019.
 
 
 
 
 ABSTRACT

In 1979, Islamic Republic of Iran emerged as a surprise in the region, and the world watched closely. Soon after the establishment of Islamic regime, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Iran, Russia (then USSR) aided Iraq with conventional arms, Iran broke diplomatic ties with the US, took its diplomats hostage for 444 days, the US imposed economic sanctions on Iran, Soviet invaded Afghanistan and a completely new picture of the region took its stage. Since then, a lot has changed in the region, and Islamic Republic of Iran has become a regional power. Russia, failed in spreading its influence in the region over Afghanistan found a unique chance of fighting the growing US influence in the region through strategic alliance with Iran. This paper describes some aspects of it.

 
Time Frame

The history of official relation between Iran and Russia dates back hundreds of years, in 1521; and the unofficial relation, even more (8th century). Since then, they have engaged in war and peace, trade and commerce, alliance against common enemy and so on. When analyzing Iran-Russia relationship, the first question to deal with is, what time frame should we consider to decide which type of relationship they have ‘now’?

This paper discusses their relationship starting from 1979, when for the first time an ideological ‘Islamic’ government was established in Iran. Since then, Iran administration has been under strict rule of the ‘Supreme Leader’, a unique religio-political role among modern governing systems. And there have been only two Supreme Leaders since then: the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and now his close disciple Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With slogans like ‘Not the East, nor the West, only Islamic Republic’, the Islamic Republic of Iran emerged with very different type of foreign policies than the international community is used to. So it naturally demanded that Russia and the rest of the world should adopt their foreign policies accordingly, before Iran starts doing so.

 
 Parameters

Within the chosen time-frame (from 1979 up to now), this paper looks into the relationship Iran and Russia have, and tries to determine whether they are competitive, cooperative or strategic alliance. Or if their relation has evolved or changed within the time frame due to external factors.
 
 
 Types of Interests

International relations among countries take shape based on various types of interest such as energy interest, security interest, business interest, power politics and so on. The paper first discusses some history (starting from 1979) of both countries, and then puts forward a discussion of their general direction and how it prioritizes which interests of the said countries.
 
 
Iran: Since 1979 Revolution

Islamic Republic of Iran emerged in February 1979 through a popular uprising that ousted the US-allied Shah. A group of clerics led by the leader of the revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power, who previously had no experience in national politics, let alone in the international one. Immediately after the revolution, they found themselves alone in the international arena, with almost all international powers including Russia (then USSR) being on the side of Saddam Hussein, who waged a war against the new-born Islamic Iran in the following year of the revolution.

Fast forward to today, and we see Iran being accepted globally as a power in the region, with its influence reaching up to Israeli border through Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon and president Bashar Al-Assad in Syria; and with allied forces in Yemen and Iraq, and having good relations with governments of Qatar, Iraq and Syria. Moreover, we see Europe trying to keep alive the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), despite US withdrawal. Clearly the politically inexperienced clerics in Iran have been able to establish strong foothold in the region within forty years of time.

Iran has been successful in ‘exporting the revolution’, which was one of the long-term foreign policies set by the leader of the revolution, late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This exportation of the revolution has given them the advantage of taking any war against Iran to farthest possible borders. Recently the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech that had they not been fighting the ISIS in Syria, they would have to fight them within Iranian borders.

One important aspect in analyzing the foreign policy of the Islamic Iran is that the country has been practically under two cleric’s rule consecutively: the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and now his disciple and successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ‘Supreme Leader’ ultimately decides which direction the country moves. He also sets boundaries for the politicians as to how far they can go (as we have seen very recently in the nuclear negotiation him setting the red line: “Missile program is our red line.”).

So, given the power the Supreme Leader practices in Islamic Iran, we should pay more attention to his views rather than focusing on specific administrations (e.g., the Rouhani administration) when analyzing foreign policy of the country. In such a situation, our analysis and predictions might not be exact, but it can be very solid in terms of general direction of the country’s foreign policy over long term.
 
 
 Russia: Since 1979

In 1979, two important events occurred regarding Iran and Russia (the then USSR). When the US-allied Shah was overthrown in February and ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’ was born, the USSR became the first country to recognize it. However, it also supplied socialist Saddam Hussein with weapons when he attacked Iran the following year. Islamic Iran was a new-born country then, and its future foreign policy was unclear, so was it not sure whether this cleric-led country was going to survive at all or not. It would not have been harmful to Soviet interest if an ‘Islamic’ Iran was overtaken by a ‘socialist’ Saddam Hussein.

The other event of 1979 was Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in September, which turned into a multi-party war, where Iran supported Shia militia groups fighting against Soviet forces. So, while the US lost its most important ally in the middle east (the Shah-led Iran), the Soviet was after spreading its direct military influence in Afghanistan, and also somewhat over Iran through arming Saddam Hussein. Had Islamic Iran lost the war to Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and had the Soviet forces been victorious in Soviet-Afghan war, the power picture in the middle east would have been very different from now.

However, after eight and nine years of war, both Saddam Hussein and Soviet forces failed to capture Iran and Afghanistan consecutively, which meant that there was going to be less influence of the Soviet and more of the US in the region. Also, Islamic Republic of Iran emerged as ‘the new reality in the region’ that must be accepted. Luckily for the Soviet though, the Islamic Iran was more at (cold) war with the US than any other country. So it was time for the the I. R. Iran and the Soviet to be pragmatic in their foreign policies and become closer.

The Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, and the Soviet-Afghan one in 1989, and the USSR collapsed two years later in 1991. So, not only the Soviet influence in Middle East declined, but also they now had trouble back home. Their economy was going down, and it was time for them to go into a little bit of hibernation, and this ‘home-making’ period lasted from 1991 up to 2000, until when Vladimir Putin became president. Except for four years of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency (when Putin was prime minister), Vladimir Putin has been president of the Russian Federation since 2000 up until now (2019).

This long-term rule has facilitated Putin to set long-term domestic and foreign policies for Russia, where it can also have consistent type of relationship with Iran in terms of regional power, energy and security. The same can be stated for the current Supreme Leader of Iran, who assumed office in 1989 and is in office since then. He also has been guiding the country’s foreign policies, and his long-term office facilitates him to set long-term foreign policies for Iran.

Given the above picture, we can analyze Iran-Russia relation since 2000 up until now, where both countries are being ruled by the same single leaders since then. Observing Iran-Russia relation for this twenty years span (2000-2019) will allow us to grasp a solid understanding of their relation and the possible direction ahead.
 
 
 Iran-Russia Relation

Is Iran still that very much ideological country, whose first Supreme Leader ignored any consequences and gave open fatwa sentencing Salman Rushdie to death, kept US diplomats hostage for 444 days and made the slogan ‘death to America’ an everyday recital for the public? There is no doubt that without the charismatic spiritual personality of Imam Khomeini the revolution would not have been successful, but to sustain a revolution is much tougher than commencing it. And that often requires shifting a little from strict ideology to being a bit more pragmatic. So, even though ‘ideologically’ Islam is not compatible with the western ideologies, nor with the socialist-communist views, being pragmatic has brought Iran closer to Russian Federation, and also to China.

The US-imposed sanctions compelled Iran to be self-dependent in almost every areas, so they have flourished in military industry, medical sciences and even in space technologies and more. Yet they have relations with Russia in areas of security, commerce and regional balance of power.
 
 
 Security

Before the revolution of 1979, Iran was mostly dependent on the west for military equipments. Soon after the revolution, the US imposed sanctions on Iran, so it started developing its own military industry. Now they have homemade fighter jets, tanks, rockets, missiles and many more. Still they need some advanced military equipments that they have not been able to produce yet. For that, they rely on Russia, importing fighter jets and more. When in 2010 Russia halted delivery of promised S-300 missile defense system and some other military equipment due to a UN resolution, Iran even went to swiss court against Russia, and started buying weapons from China. Yet after the Syrian civil war broke out, Russia under Putin delivered the promised S-300 in 2016.

Whenever Iranian interest was harmed, they even went to court against Russia. It shows that Iranian policy is ‘Iran first’ over relations. It does not compete against Russia in terms of military, rather it is Israel and Saudi Arabia who they see as regional enemies. So, in the area of military security, Iran-Russia relation is commercial. However, apart from military equipments, when it comes to regional security, they have different type of relationship with Russia, which is discussed at the end of this paper.
 
 
 Commerce

In non-energy sectors, Iran and Russia have commercial relations, having trade of several billion dollars. It has increased steadily over time. In 2008 their trade relation was of 3.7 billion. Recent US-imposed sanction against Russia has also pushed them to make more trade with another sanction-choked country, Iran.
 
 
Energy

In energy sector, Russia has been developing nuclear plants in Iran. They also supply Iran with technologies for better oil and gas production.
 
 
 Regional Power

In the Syrian civil war, Russia and Iran worked together to help the Syrian government stay in power against ISIS and other extremist fighters. The war broke out in 2011 and is still continuing. Russia and Iran both have troops on the ground, with Russia deploying anti-missile systems. Iran-allied Shia militia Hezbollah has also been working there against anti-Syrian government fighters. As the Supreme Leader of Iran said, had they not fought ISIS in Syria, they would have to fight them on Iranian soil. Russian interest in Syria was that if Syria fell, then US influence in the region would increase. Iran is the main anti-US force in the region, spreading its power in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. So it serves Russian interest if Iran maintains its regional military influence, and Syria is the security belt for Iran. So it became the battleground for US-supported troops on the one hand, and Russia, Iran, Iran supported troops and the Syrian government on the other hand.

While Iran and Russia were cooperating in Syrian soil militarily, they maintained purely commercial relations in terms of their bilateral arms trade, and even went to court. This relation can be easily understood as both countries are ambitiously reaching for regional and international powers. In view of power politics, their relation is strategic alliance, where they cooperate in areas of common interest, but both pursue individual ambitious goals.

মন্তব্যসমূহ

এই ব্লগটি থেকে জনপ্রিয় পোস্টগুলি

শিয়া-সুন্নি বিরোধ সংক্রান্ত গুরুত্বপূর্ণ কিছু প্রশ্ন এবং উভয় পক্ষের জবাব

শিয়া-সুন্নি বিভেদ ও দ্বন্দ বহু পুরনো বিষয়। এই দ্বন্দ নিরসনে ইতিহাসে বহু দ্বীনি ব্যক্তিত্ব বৃহত্তর মুসলিম ঐক্য প্রতিষ্ঠার চেষ্টা করেছেন। বিপ্লবের পরপর ডা. জাকির নায়েকের ওস্তাদ আহমদ দীদাত ইরানের যান এবং সেখান থেকে ফিরে এসে শিয়া-সুন্নি ঐক্য ডায়লগে তাঁর অভিজ্ঞতা তুলে ধরেন, যা আমি এক সপ্তাহ আগে অনুবাদ করে প্রকাশ করেছিলাম
যা-ই হোক, এই দ্বন্দ নিশ্চিতভাবেই মুসলমানদের জন্য একটি নেতিবাচক ও দুর্বলতার দিক। এমনকি তা অনেককে চরমপন্থার দিকেও নিয়ে গিয়েছে। আগে যেই শিয়া-সুন্নি দ্বন্দ আলেমসমাজ ও কতিপয় জানাশোনা ব্যক্তির মাঝে সীমাবদ্ধ ছিলো, বর্তমান সহজ তথ্যপ্রযুক্তির যুগে তা প্রায় সকল লেভেলে ছড়িয়ে পড়েছে। দেখা যাচ্ছে যে, একদল আরেক দলকে এমন অনেক অভিযোগ করছে, যেগুলো হয়তো শিয়া-সুন্নি উভয় আলেমই অগ্রহণযোগ্য বলে বাতিল করে দেবেন। তবে তথ্যের অবাধ প্রবাহের একটি সুবিধা হলো, এতে মিথ্যার প্রচার যেমন অতি সহজ, তেমনি একইভাবে মানুষের দ্বারে সত্যকে পৌঁছে দেওয়াও খুব সহজ।

আমি ব্যক্তিগতভাবে শিয়া ও সুন্নি উভয়কেই মুসলিম ভাই বলে গণ্য করি। কিন্তু তাদের বৃহত্তর ঐক্যে পৌঁছানোর ব্যর্থতা, পরস্পর শত্রুতা ও প্রেজুডি…

ইমাম খোমেনীর জীবন : এক ইসলামী বিপ্লবের ইতিহাস

রুহুল্লাহর গল্প
বিশ্ব ইমাম খোমেনীকে প্রথমবারের মত চিনেছে ১৯৭৮ সালের শেষাশেষি, যখন ইরানের রাজতন্ত্রের বিরোধিতা করার কারণে তিনি ফ্রান্সে নির্বাসিত ছিলেন। প্যারিসের অদূরে বসে ইরানের শাহ মুহাম্মদ রেজা পাহলভীর বিরুদ্ধে ইমাম খোমেনীর ঘোষিত যুদ্ধ এবং আমেরিকা বিরোধী কঠোর বক্তব্য এক অভূতপূর্ব মিডিয়া কাভারেজ এনে দিলো, এবং ইমামকে বিংশ শতকের অন্যতম বিপ্লবী চরিত্র হিসেবে পরিচিত করলো। পত্র-পত্রিকা আর নিউজ বুলেটিনে তাঁর ছবি ভরে উঠলো। এই ছবি বিশ্বের অসংখ্য মানুষের কাছে, বিশেষতঃ পশ্চিমা বিশ্বের কাছে নিতান্তই অপরিচিত ছিলো। সাদা দাড়ি এবং কালো পাগড়িধারী এই মানুষটিকে দেখে মনে হতো যেনো ইতিহাসের পাতা থেকে সময় অতিক্রম করে বর্তমানে চলে এসেছেন। তাঁর সমস্তকিছুই ছিলো নতুন আর অপরিচিত। এমনকি তাঁর নামটিও : রুহুল্লাহ। আর দুনিয়ার অসংখ্য পলিটিশিয়ান ও সাংবাদিকদের মনে যে প্রশ্নটি নাড়া দিয়ে যাচ্ছিলো, তা ছিলো : কী ধরণের বিপ্লবী মানুষ এই খোমেনী ?

শিয়া-সুন্নি ঐক্য ডায়লগ এবং আহমেদ দিদাতের ইরান অভিজ্ঞতা

(লেখাটি পিডিএফ আকারে ডাউনলোড করতে এখানে ক্লিক করুন।)
আহমেদ দিদাত (১৯১৮-২০০৫) এর নাম হয়তো অনেকের অজানা থাকবে। তবে ডা. জাকির নায়েকের নাম নিশ্চয়ই অজানা নয়। ডা. জাকির নায়েকের বর্তমান কর্মকাণ্ডের অনুপ্রেরণা হলেন আহমেদ দিদাত। আহমেদ দিদাত, যিনি কিনা ডা. জাকির নায়েকের নাম দিয়েছিলেন "দিদাত প্লাস" – পৃথিবীজুড়ে ঘুরে বেড়ানো এবং তুলনামূলক ধর্মতত্ত্ব নিয়ে লেকচার দেয়া ছিলো তাঁর কাজ। যাহোক, ১৯৭৯ সালে ইমাম খোমেইনীর নেতৃত্বে ইসলামী বিপ্লবের মাধ্যমে ইরানে ২৫০০ বছরের রাজতন্ত্রের অবসান ঘটে এবং ইসলামী ইরানের জন্ম হয়। বিপ্লব-পরবর্তী ইরানে ভিজিট করেন আহমেদ দিদাত, সাক্ষাৎ করেন ইমাম খোমেইনীর সাথে এবং নিজদেশে ফিরে এসে ১৯৮২ সালের মার্চ মাসে তাঁর অনুভূতি তুলে ধরেন। আহমেদ দিদাতের নানা বিষয়ে বক্তব্য ও চিন্তাভাবনা বাংলা ভাষায় কিছু না কিছু পাওয়া যায়। কিন্তু শিয়া-সুন্নি ঐক্যের এই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বিষয়ে তাঁর চমৎকার বক্তব্যের অনুবাদ কোথাও না পেয়ে সবার সাথে শেয়ার করার উদ্দেশ্যেই অনুবাদ করে ফেললাম। আরেকটি বিষয় উল্লেখ করা প্রয়োজন। মূল অডিও কোথাও কোথাও শুনতে বা বুঝতে অসুবিধা হয়। কোথাওবা অডিও নিঃশব…