Russian-Iranian Relations: Is there any Cause for Optimism?

Russian-Iranian relations at the bilateral and regional levels will increase. Particularly at the regional level, the common interests of the two countries are so important that it seems very unlikely that this cooperation would simply be reduced.

Since the Presidency of Hassan Rohani, Iran has adopted a new approach, based on constructive interaction in foreign policy, which emphasizes negotiations in resolving problems. In this new approach, the Islamic Republic of Iran as a regional power, in an effort to improve bilateral relations and regional stability, pursues a balanced and multilateral-oriented foreign policy. In this context, cooperation between Iran and Russia on bilateral and regional affairs is an essential issue, and in the post-nuclear-deal era this cooperation can be strengthened. The UN Security Council sanctions had reduced trade between the two states. Sanctions imposed on Russia by the Western states and the Iranian government’s plan for economic development can help to address this issue. The past two years has seen the most traffic of the two countries’ officials, and some important economic and trade agreements between the two governments have been signed. The purpose of these agreements is to increase Tehran and Moscow’s trade relations to $70 billion for the next ten years.

Agreements have been signed and a new chapter has opened in the post-deal era for the two countries. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) can lead to the removal of financial sanctions against Iran and, as a result, trade exchanges between the two states will increase. In the past two years, officials in Moscow and Tehran have frequently shown their intention to create a strong base for expanding cooperation. On the regional level, the problems of radicalism and terrorism and damage to the balance of power in the Middle East are the most important security threats to the regional security of both countries, and the lack of stability in these regions have the potential to make the national and regional interests of Iran and Russia vulnerable. From Afghanistan to Central Asia and from the Caspian Sea to the South Caucasus and the Middle East, there are common issues that require serious cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, and this cooperation can promote stability in the region.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s trip to Moscow within the framework of a broader series of meetings in the past two weeks should be considered. Zarif’s intensive visits to the countries of the region, new interactions with Russia on bilateral and regional issues and especially Tehran’s proposal of negotiations to the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) are aimed at setting a new framework for regional cooperation following the end of the decades-old dispute with the West. This goal suggests that Iran is pooling its efforts to combat terrorism and extremism in the region.

Iran’s attempts to end the crisis in Syria have made headlines in recent days. At the same time, other states’ efforts to resolve the conflicts during the last two years have reached a dead end, and they have come to the understanding that political challenges in Syria will not have a loser or winner. Iran’s four-point peace proposal to help end the country’s four-year-old armed skirmishes makes sense in such circumstances. The Iranian foreign minister, during his visits to Russia, concentrated on the Syrian issue. Furthering relations between Iran and Russia is also of great importance. Comprehensive agreements have been signed and a new chapter has opened in the post-deal era for the two countries. Russia seems to be pursuing economic goals in Iran, as Russian officials stress that re-imposing anti-Iranian sanctions is impossible. Cooperation in the oil sector and industrial technologies as well as the Caspian Sea’s legal regime, Tehran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and even the country’s cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is on the agenda of Russian-Iranian relations. Iran and Russia also have nuclear cooperation. There is an agreement between the two countries for building two 1,000-MW nuclear power plants in Iran. In the post-nuclear-deal era, Iran and Russia are trying to expand their economic relations. Lifting the anti-Iranian sanctions has provided opportunities for both sides, and, in this situation, agreements on technical, economic and trade cooperation have emerged during the last two years. Russia is also actively trying to expand its relations with Eastern and non-Western countries, reducing dependence on its relations with the West.

Iran wants to become a member-state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and Russia’s support for Iranian membership bid is very important. This helps regional stability in Central Eurasia. Next year, prior to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Iran will try to create the necessary conditions for joining the organization. The main obstacle to Iran’s membership has been the UN Security Council sanctions. Following the nuclear deal, Iran has met the membership terms and even the membership of India and Pakistan will help it.

In addition, it was agreed during the last month that cooperation and exchange of information would begin between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Iranian industries, mines and the trade ministry. The two sides agreed that economic cooperation between Iran and the EAEU would serve both sides’ economic interests. Mehdi Sanaei, Iranian Ambassador to Moscow, pointing to Iran’s positive and progressing relations with Russia and EAEU countries, expressed hope for the signing of a preferential tariff as the first step in cooperation. This would result in the expansion of trade and economic relations, and the next step would be discussing Iran’s membership. Despite the signing of the JCPOA between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, Iran and the US still have a lot of problems. Both in America and in Iran, there are still serious opponents to bilateral relations, and therefore it is very difficult to think about a normal situation in the relations between Tehran and Washington.

Therefore, Russian-Iranian relations at the bilateral and regional levels will increase. Particularly at the regional level, the common interests of the two countries are so important that it seems very unlikely that this cooperation would simply be reduced. Not only is this relationship important for the interests of Moscow and Tehran, it is also significant for regional and global stability. The experience of regional cooperation between Iran and Russia in the last 25 years clearly reflects this reality. Therefore, we can seriously and optimistically look forward to having and expanding better relations and cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in the coming years.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.