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Iran - Russia Relations

After the 1979 overthrow of the shah, "No East, No West" was a popular refrain in Iran, but in the past few years an alliance — at times shaky — between Moscow and Tehran has developed. Since 2014, Iranian-Russian ties have strengthened as the pair closely coordinated battlefield efforts to save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a mutual ally.

Iran has had relatively good relations with China, India, and Russia, particularly in the area of military cooperation. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Reuters on 28 March 2017 that Russia could use Iranian military bases to launch air strikes against militants in Syria on a "case by case basis."

Because of its resources, strategic location, vulnerability to armed attack and exposure to political subversion, Iran was a continuing objective in the Russian and Soviet program of expansion. If Iran should come under domination by Moscow, the independence of all other countries of the Middle East would be threatened. Specifically Moscow could (1) control or limit the availability of a Middle Eastern oil reservoir upon which the economy of Western Europe depends; (2) acquire advance bases for subversive activities or actual attack against a vast contiguous area including Turkey, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula (hence the Suez Canal), Afghanistan, and Pakistan; (3) obtain a base hundreds of miles nearer to potential US–UK lines of defense in the Middle East than any held at present; (4) control continental air routes crossing Iran, threaten those traversing adjacent areas, and menace shipping in the Persian Gulf; and (5) undermine the will of most Middle Eastern countries to resist further aggression.

By the end of the 19th Century, the Shah's kingdom was a piece on the check-board of Asia. The growing influence of Russia at the Court of the Sha and the expansion of Russian trade, had led to a general decline of British commerce and prestige. Captain Mahan, for example, the most strenuous opponent of Russian designs upon the Gulf, thought it quite reasonable that Northern Persia should in time fall entirely under the domination of Russia, owing to the proximity of the two countries; while Mahan believed British influence cannot be expected to extend very far beyond the shores of the Gulf. The general opinion in Teheran was that Russia was driving Great Britain out of the field in Persia.

Many people, especially in Teheran, regard the north as already gone as far as we are concerned— the north including Tabriz, Teheran, and Meshed— and serious inroads are being made on Isfahan and the central district generally, to say nothing of the raids on the south carried out by means of subsidised steamers from Odessa. With the exception of opium, gum, and carpets, all the raw products of Persia, found by far their readiest market in Russia.

On August 18/31, 1907, a convention was signed between Great Britain and Russia, the general object of which was "to settle by mutual agreement different questions concerning the interests of their states on the continent cf Asia."

In 1921 the army officer Reza Khan provided military support for a coup d’état that led to far-reaching economic, political, and social changes. After the Majlis deposed the Qajar dynasty in 1925, Reza Khan became shah, taking the dynastic name Pahlavi.

When German forces invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Allies urgently needed to transport war matériel across Iran to the Soviet Union, an operation that would have violated Iranian neutrality. As a result, Britain and the Soviet Union simultaneously invaded Iran on August 26, 1941, the Soviets from the northwest and the British across the Iraqi frontier from the west and at the head of the Persian Gulf in the south. Resistance quickly collapsed. Reza Shah was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by his son, who ascended the throne as Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

With the political controls of the Reza Shah period removed, party and press activity revived. The communist Tudeh Party was especially active in organizing industrial workers. Like many other political parties of the left and center, it called for economic and social reform.

Eventually, collusion between the Tudeh and the Soviet Union brought further disintegration to Iran. In September 1944, while American companies were negotiating for oil concessions in Iran, the Soviets requested an oil concession in the five northern provinces. In December, however, the Majlis passed a law forbidding the government to discuss oil concessions before the end of the war. This led to fierce Soviet propaganda attacks on the government and agitation by the Tudeh in favor of a Soviet oil concession.

Soviet troops prevented government forces from entering Azarbaijan and Kurdistan. Soviet pressure on Iran continued as British and American troops evacuated in keeping with treaty commitments while Soviet troops remained in the country. Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam had to persuade Stalin to withdraw his forces by agreeing to submit a Soviet oil concession to the Majlis and to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the Azarbaijan crisis. In May 1946, partly as a result of U.S., British, and UN pressure, Soviet troops withdrew from Iranian territory.

Soviet influence diminished further in 1947, when Iran and the United States signed an agreement providing for military aid and for a U.S. military advisory mission to help train the Iranian army. In February 1949, the Tudeh was blamed for an abortive attempt on the shah’s life, and its leaders fled abroad or were arrested. The party was banned.

Iran, after first following a policy of procrastination, evasion and compromise when confronted by an aggressive Soviet attitude, with strong United States and United Kingdom encouragement and support, had been able to maintain its independence in the face of persistent Soviet pressure.

Iran has enjoyed generally good relations with Russia and most of the other former Soviet republics since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia saw Iran as a "joint-venture" partner in extending its influence into the Middle East. Iran's position was more advanced than simply that of an arms purchaser. The Russians wished to tie Iranian military procurement into Russian systems, making any move away difficult and increasing Russian influence on Iran.

Russian-Iran security cooperation was not directly aimed at the US, but as Russia saw close ties with Iran as a means to project influence and gain access to warm water port facilities, they had strong incentives to prevent the US from improving its ties with Iran and probably displacing its influence.

In 1995 Russia agreed to finish construction of the large nuclear power reactor in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr, despite intense opposition from the United States. Russian entities were interacting with Iranian nuclear research centers on a wide variety of activities beyond the Bushehr project. Many of these projects had direct application to the production of weapons - grade fissile material. The United States initially levied trade restrictions against two Russian entities - NIKIET and Mendeleyev University - for providing nuclear assistance to Iran.

Russia’s extensive trade with Iran included the sale of military equipment. In addition, the two countries cooperated closely between 1996 and 2001 to support former Afghan government forces fighting against the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The UN Security Council voted to impose sanctions on Iran as part of its strategy to pressure the country into complying with IAEA inspections. The sanctions were a compromise between the tough measures favored by Britain, France, and the United States on the one hand and the lack of enthusiasm for any sanctions on the part of China and Russia on the other hand.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, "equitable" distribution of Caspian Sea resources has been an item of contention between the five littoral states: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan. According to press articles, the Caspian is said to contain some 12% of the world's oil reserves, as well as huge deposits of natural gas.

On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union (EU), and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.

In July 2015, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2231 endorsing the JCPOA. As part of that Resolution, the Council took a decision binding on all states that the “use” of “combat aircraft” in Iran required prior approval of the Security Council. Russia used Iran as a launching point for airstrikes against moderate opposition forces in Syria.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said 21 December 2016 that : “Reports indicate that Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Moscow without the United States to decide the fate of Syria. That the Syrian people will be left to the tender mercies of Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin, Qasem Soleimani, and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the predictable consequence of President Obama’s reckless policy of disengagement from the Middle East. And it is ironic that after touting the power of diplomacy for years, President Obama’s refusal to back diplomacy with strength has left the United States without even a seat at the diplomatic table.”

The Iranians hope to purchase Russian weaponry in a few years when the Iranian nuclear deal allows them to do so, and this will make more permanent the relationship as Iran becomes reliant on Russia for spare parts and training.

For Iran, the cooperation has amounted to the most significant military engagement it has had with another country since the shah's ouster. Moscow's and Tehran's hard-liners reinforce each other in ideological hostility to the West. Iran embraced Russia as a counterforce to the United States, and Putin viewed Iran as a useful ally as he sought to reassert his country on the world stage.

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Page last modified: 31-03-2017 19:43:38 ZULU