Relations between Tehran and Moscow have been tense and stagnant in recent months subsequent to President Ahmadinejad's outright criticism of Moscow's alignment with Washington's policies against Iran and Kremlin's retorts to his criticism. Although both countries' officials have taken steps to prevent further deterioration of relations, Russia's compliance with the new sanction resolution adopted by the UN Security Council and a recent decree by the Russian President Medvedev for the implementation of sanctions, have further worsened the tense atmosphere governing the two neighbors' relations. Although some experts have noted that implementation of sanctions against Iran is a result of recent military and security agreements reached by Russia with Washington and NATO, Russian officials have rejected such speculations noting that their measures were simply dictated by their national interests and international obligations.
Q: Dr. Sanaei; Dmitri Medvedev has issued an executive order to put some anti-Iranian sanctions into force, including a ban on selling S-300 missile system. What is your opinion?
A: There is no doubt that Moscow's refrainment from selling S-300 missiles to Iran will not help to improve bilateral relations. Two points should be borne in mind here. Firstly, these missiles are just for defense and not suitable for offense. Therefore, the question is "Why there should be concerns about a country's willingness to beef up its defensive capacities?" If they were offensive missiles capable of strengthening Iran's ability to attack other countries, those concerns would have been understandable. However, these are purely defensive missiles suitable to defend the nuclear power plant in Bushehr. On the other hand, Russia has signed a contract with Iran and should fulfill it; therefore, their reluctance to deliver missiles to Iran is by no means justifiable. Of course, tremendous pressures which have been put on Russia by the United States and the European countries to dissuade Moscow from delivery of the missile system should not be ignored.
Russia's abstention from delivering S-300 missiles is also related to pressures from the Zionist regime. Tel Aviv has been insisting Moscow during past few months in this regard. In addition, the list of Russian sanctions proves that 5+1 has given the go-ahead to Moscow to put more pressure on Iran. Therefore, despite Russia's efforts to bypass sanctions, it has complied with those sanctions as relations with 5+1 are very important to Moscow.
Q: Is there any coincidence between announcement of Russian sanctions against Iran with President Ahmadinejad's recent New York tour and his interviews with the American media, on the one hand, and Russia's recent military and security agreements with the United States and NATO, on the other hand? Do you really think there is a relationship among these developments?
A: Moscow's relations with Washington will certainly affect its position on Tehran's nuclear program. Fluctuations in Russia's interactions with the United States over Iran's nuclear program have been a function of oscillations in their relations. It should be noted that developments in the past two years and political changes both in Russia and the United States have left their mark on those countries' foreign policy approaches (which are remarkably different from their past approaches). As a result, the White House and Kremlin have taken increasingly converging positions on a host of political issues. As I said before, Russia's treatment of Iran is sure to be a function of its relations with the United States and Israel, especially when it comes to the nuclear program. Of course, many countries have enforced sanctions against Iran and submitted reports to the Security Council. Russia is one of those countries, which pursues certain goals by announcing its compliance with sanctions. Firstly, Moscow is trying to prove its loyalty to the Security Council and, secondly, it is sending positive signals to the United States and 5+1.
Barak Obama's statements both in his address at the General Assembly meeting and in an interview with BBC Persian clearly proved that it was of utmost importance to the United States to show that there is international consensus about pressure on Iran, especially among member states of 5+1, including Russia and China. Therefore, it is natural for them to spend more time on changing Russia's behavior toward Iran. I also believe that Russia's behavior should not be construed in absolute terms. Moscow will try to continue its mediatory role and balance relations with both sides. Thus, it will try to reduce pressures from western states by enforcing Iran sanctions while, on the other hand, attempting to maintain relations with Iran by keeping some degree of cooperation with Tehran.
Q: One of the most serious aspects of Russia's sanctions against Iran is the ban on travelling by certain Iranian scientists and state officials related to Iran's nuclear program to and through Russia. Since Moscow is cooperating with Tehran on the nuclear program, including on Bushehr nuclear power plant, and since both sides have indicated their willingness to continue that cooperation, do you think that sanctions will have any serious impact on nuclear cooperation between Tehran and Moscow?
A: As I said before, Russia has accepted to enforce minimal sanctions against Iran under tremendous international pressure. There is much controversy about the extent to which those sanctions will affect various areas, especially what you just mentioned.
Q: Some analysts maintain that by sanctioning Iran, Russia has proven that between the United States and Iran, it has chosen the United States. What is your opinion?
A: There is no doubt that the first and foremost goal of the Russian foreign policy is to protect the national interests of that country. However, it would be oversimplification to just assert that Russia has preferred the United States over Iran. Russia does not actually believe that all-out alignment with the west would be beneficial to its national interests. Therefore, it has always tried and will undoubtedly continue to try to play a double role in its foreign policy. I do not agree that Russia's foreign policy is totally inclined toward the west. Russia commissioned Bushehr nuclear power plant last month, which was not only surprising to western analysts, but also to their Russian counterparts. So, how this measure can be attributed to Russia's subservience to the United States and Israel? We are currently facing several situations. Firstly, Russia pursues its own national interests by imposing sanctions against Iran as Russian politicians believe that cooperation with Europe and the United States is currently a high priority to protect the country's national interests. Secondly, Russia enjoys limited capacities to withstand pressures from western powers and cannot stand against concerted efforts of western countries. I also believe that part of Russia's current policies is a form of strategic confrontation with the west as Moscow has not given in to all pressures from western powers and is simply pursuing its own long-term interests.
Dr. Mehdi Sanaie, a member of the Iranian Parliament's Foreign Policy Committee and head of the Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)
About Iran Review: Iran Review (www.iranreview.org) is the leading independent, non-governmental and non-partisan website - organization representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran's political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.
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