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Iranian Foreign Policy Analysis – Iran's alliance with Russia, implications of.

By: Meir Javedanfar - meepas.com

04/05/2005

Introduction

For the last 15 years the Iranian government has made improvement in economic and political relations with Russia into a sustained policy. As a result Russia is now one of the main trading partners for Iran supplying billions of dollars worth of transportation, energy and military equipment and know how to Tehran. Furthermore the Iranian government now counts on Russia as one of its main supporters in the international arena. This is illustrated by the fact that both Presidents Putin and Khatami defend their bilateral relationship time and again during foreign visits and at home.

The newly formed alliance flies in the face of official Iranian government policy as the Islamic Republic of Iran's foundations are built on protecting Islam and Moslems in Iran and worldwide. So why is the regime in Tehran strengthening relations with Russia whom it has accused of “mercilessly murdering thousands of Chechen Muslims”? Furthermore Russia and Iran are both major competitors for influence in the Caucus region, therefore why is the government in Tehran assisting another country which is a political and economic rival?

Part 1 of this analysis examined Russian motivations for relations with Iran. This analysis by meepas© will address the Iranian government's motivations for improved relations with Russia whilst forecasting its impact on Iran's foreign policy.

New realities and necessities

Iran of 1989 was a different country to the revolutionary Iran of 1979. After fighting the world's longest conventional war (lasting eight years) Iran was in need of new suppliers for the reconstruction of its cities, economic infrastructure, armed forces and its international relations. At the same time the US embargo was hurting the Iranian economy as it reduced investment and technology supplied to Iran. Meanwhile with falling oil prices and a war damaged oil infrastructure the oil sector could not provide the energy requirements and jobs for the hundreds of thousands of young unemployed Iranians. Therefore new equipment and technology suppliers were needed to diversify the economy in order to create new jobs and energy resources.

The changing strategic landscape of the region was also becoming another risk. Iran's sense of isolation was heightened upon the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq which lead to the arrival of the much despised US armed forces right at Iran's doorstep. With depleted military resources the Iranian government decided that Iran's military infrastructure needed to secure the purchase of new equipment, especially tanks and aircraft. The Iranian government also decided that Iran's own military industries needed to develop its own capabilities in order to reduce reliance on foreign suppliers. However foreign assistance was required to start the project. This was a painful lessons learnt after the war against Iraq, due to the fact that the US military embargo against Iran badly reduced the performance and capability of Iran's armed forces.

Another area of focus for the Iranian military strategists was Iran's non conventional capability. After witnessing the international community's almost indifference to the use of chemical and biological weapons by Saddam against Iranian forces and Iraqi Kurds, Iranian strategists decided to develop Iran's non conventional capability. This was part of a three fold strategy. The first part consisted of using the non conventional option to create a defensive umb rella . This defensive strategy is almost a carbon copy of the Soviet strategy used to deter an attack from the US, based on the realisation that the current conventional capability is inferior to that of the potential aggressor.

The second goal of the non conventional strategy consisted of using the non conventional option to advance the Iranian government's offensive capability should it choose to exercise that option in the next conflict. The third part of the strategy was to use nuclear energy to replace oil as a source for local energy production. This capability would therefore allow oil to be used almost exclusively for export purposes.

Changing priorities

In a famous speech towards the end of the war against Iraq in 1987 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is said to have told to a gathering of Iran's ambassadors “today Iran is so isolated that we can count the number of our friends on one hand. It is your job to change that”. The consequences of Iran's anti East and West foreign policy chanted every morning by hundreds of thousands of Iranian students “no to the west, no to the east, yes to the Islamic Republic” was hurting the Iranian economy and military capability as it prevented any military or technology import from the US or the USSR. After the end of the war against Iraq and the end of Communism in the ex-USSR Iran found a more acceptable ally in Russia. This was due to the following political and economic advantages which Russia could offer to the Islamic regime:.

•  High quality weaponry which Iran could use to replace its depleting stock

•  New (and old) equipment for Iran's transportation sector

•  Know how and equipment for Iran's nuclear energy programme (which Iran used indirectly for its weapons manufacturing programme).

•  Backing to Iran's plans to reduce American influence in the region

•  Political support to Iran in international organisations especially the UN where Russia is a permanent member of the security council

As discussed in the first part of this analysis Moscow also gained from its relationship from Tehran, therefore the alliance between Tehran and Moscow has strengthened over the last 15 years.

According to meepas© the Tehran-Moscow relationship is forecasted to strengthen further as relations with Russia provide Iran with secure access to the supply of technology it needs for important parts of the economy such as the transportation, energy production and the military production sector. More importantly Iran is forecasted to strengthen its relations with Russia due to the fact that Tehran continues to be isolated by the US and parts of the EU due to its nuclear programme and support of terrorist groups in the Middle East. However relations with Russia who is a member of the G8 and a permanent member of the Security Council reduce Iran's isolation in the international community. This factor provides the Iranian government with crucial political capital when it comes to dealing with international issues. Therefore as relations with the US and the EU are expected to worsen due to the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear programme, Russia's importance as a gateway out of isolation for the Iranian government is expected to become more and more important to Tehran.

Implications for the future

Iran's relations with Russia will have a number of implications for the region. The most notable is Iran's posture towards the US. Emboldened by the political backing it receives from Moscow in the defence of their relationship Tehran is expected to continue its hard line stance against the United States. The recent anti aircraft missile deal with Syria by Russia is further sign that there are other countries outside the region (i.e. Russia) which also like to see Israel's military superiority reduced. This factor, plus Iran's own growing military capability will give further confidence to the continuation of Iran's anti-Israeli stance in the region. The form of this stance is likely to include continuation of anti-Israel propaganda and extension of financial and military support to anti Israeli groups in the region such as Hezbollah.

Iraq is another area which is likely to be affected as a result of the growing Iran-Russia ties. Covertly (i.e. Russia) and overtly (ie. Iran) would both like to see the departure of US forces from Iraq as soon as possible. Russia can not actively and directly encourage this as economically it would have too much to lose. However as the Iranian government has very little economic ties and no political relations with Washington therefore it has little to lose by assisting anti-US forces in Iraq. Therefore although Russia does not support Iran's subversive activities in Iraq, it is very likely that Moscow's military and political support to the government in Tehran will embolden the Iranian government to continue with its anti-US rhetoric and activities in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

End of Analysis

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