By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea
Russian and Iranian Defense Ministers Sergei Shoigu and Hossein Dehgan
Moscow, February 2016 (photo by Islamic Republic News Agency)
Following the disclosure of Russian military presence in the form of Russian jets using the Iranian bases, and also firing of Russian cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea and over the airspace of Iran towards certain targets in Syria, some of the advisers to the Islamic Republic in Iran have announced that these are taking place in line with the new Iranian policy of "looking to the East" and a new approach in the foreign policy of the Iranian government. (1) Also, some of the political observers have claimed the new events in the Iran-Russian relations is not an important issue and the two countries are no allies (2).
The reality is that, what is happening now in the Iran-Russia relations is just the continuation of a trend that started and increasingly expanded since inception of the Islamic republic in 1979 in Iran. Although the new developments, especially the worsening of relation of the Western countries with Russia, has created a new atmosphere of closeness between the governments of the two countries, the hardliners and extremists that dominate the Iranian government for the last several decades, have always persuaded the Iranian society for closer relation between Iran and Russia.
This trend has been going on despite historical negative experience of Iranians with the Russians. The Old Russian Empire tried to destroy Iran in order to devour the smaller parts one after another. Peter the Great left guidance to destroy Iran in order to get to the "warm waters" of the Persian Gulf. In 1907 and 1915, the Russians twice tried to destroy Iran in collaboration with the British. Following several unequal wars between the outdated Iranian army and the Russian army which was much more advanced, during the time of the Qajar Dynasty, the Russians separated and devoured several parts of Iran (1813), including major parts of the present territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan. For a long time, the Russians of the USSR, with collaboration of their Iranian communists, created difficulties for Iran's exploitation of oil resources in the north. The Russians always tried to find a way to turn Iran into a communist state. This was not really a love to expand communism as an ideology to Iran. The policy has always been making Iran subordinate to the Russians through an ideology that its followers considered Moscow as their mother and by creating surrogate territories in the style of many former republics of the USSR.
However, after the collapse of Shah's rule in Iran (1979), the newly established regime under Ayatollah Khomeini, has found many reasons for growing relations between the governments of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the Russians.
First of all, the new Iranian regime has been in acute need of the ideological slogans used by the former USSR. While the Russians have not much use for such ideological slogans anymore, they have a good market in Iran. You can find almost the same Soviet Cold War literature being used in the Islamic regime of Iran right from the beginning up to now. The Russians love to see Iran repeat former Russian government slogans about Western values and policies and even culture, while they are not interested to do so themselves.
Secondly, the Iranian people (not the present regime, which does not represent the people) have a special inclination towards the West and especially the Americans. Unlike the government of Iran, the people of Iran are the most pro-West and Pro-American people in the region. Even Mullahs of the Iranian regime never travel to Russia for sightseeing, medical care or even making a religious sermon. On the contrary, almost the entire people of Iran look to the West, and especially to the US, as their model of progress, and the destination for migration, study, and finding a better life. and The Iranian regime and the Russians know this very well. Undoubtedly, the next regime of Iran will definitely pay back the Russians for their behaviors in helping the regime in Iran to ignore the people's demands, and will respond to Russian overtures according to the demands of the Iranian people. Therefore, the Russians try to use the current opportunity to the best extent that they can.
For example, the Russians have violated the rights of Iran in the Caspian Sea. According to the existing regime of the Caspian Sea, the Russians had no right to stop Iranian ships from traveling to the northern parts of the Caspian Sea. At the moment, the Russians are imposing the formula of the Modified Median Line on all Caspian states, which gives less than 11 percent of the Caspian Sea to Iran. This is exactly contrary to the interests of Iran as a country that one was one of the only two countries in the Caspian shores. The Iranian Islamic regime has given a free hand to the Russians to do whatever they want, including turning the Caspian Sea to the center of the one of the biggest naval concentrations of Russians forces.
The Russian Federation, as the successor of the USSR, feels that it was deceived
by the West and now it is using Iran as a center to retaliate. The Russians were
under the impression that if they abandoned the communist policies of the
previous regime, they would get many things from the West that they had been
deprived of. However, system change in Russia has brought many problems, and the
West is not really helping Russia to overcome any of those problems. The
Russians have a sense of being cheated, and they are willing to take every
opportunity (like the one of Iran) to pay back the West. Iran has created many
occasions for the Russians to play a role that they would not have otherwise.
Russians were and are instrumental in the nuclear case of Iran. They
helped Iran violate the sanctions, while they cooperated in imposing them. The
Russians are receiving concessions and advantages from both the West and Iran
over Russian policies on Iran.
Using the airbase made by the Americans at the time of Shah, when Iran was a member of CENTO or central treaty organization (as a continuation of NATO), and probably established for the containment of the Russians, by the Russians forces is a new manifestation of the alliance between the regime of Iran and the Russian federation. Although this option gives some advantages to the Russian attacks in Syria (3), the importance of this military presence is much further than the attacks against Syrian targets. This is a military breakthrough for the Russians.
It should be noted that once this kind of dependence is established, it is not
easy to change the situation. On the top of that, according to some parts
of the 1921 Treaty of Iran and Russia (Iran has claimed that this part of the
treaty is void and the Russians have never accepted that), the Russians have the
right of intervention in Iran if they feel that there is a danger to them that
Iran is not able to remove.
(1) Iranian officials defend Russian use of Hamadan air base -fortunascorner.com
(2) Russian realism in the Middle East - LobeLog
Why Has Tehran Allowed Russian Bombers to Use an Iranian Base? -payvand.com
About the author:
Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books. His latest books were published in 2011:
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