Dimitris Rapidis

On September Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet with the newly-elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. The reasons for such a meeting might vary, but the timing can be well decisive under the current turbulences in the Middle East region and the expected policy shifts of the United States towards Middle East. It is expected that the United States after a long period of low-profiled intervening policies in the region might be attempting to re-trigger globally and militarily a number of issues for which both Russia and Iran have major stakes. How this duo is planning to move ahead?

The decision for President Putin to meet with his homologue of Iran Hassan Rouhani can be interpreted through multiple prisms. Kremlin has a strong strategic asset to support Iran in the international scene both for commercial/economic reasons as well as for reasons of geopolitical leverage. For the first one, it is well-known that the imposed embargo on Tehran by the international community has long affected the economy of Iran which sees in the eyes of Russia the only trustworthy -for the time being- ally against the country’s isolation. Russia sells nuclear know-how and technology in Tehran while preparing a new series of highly-advanced missiles. For the second one, the geopolitical field, Moscow -along with Beijing- have long decided to establish a supportive axis over Damascus, Tehran, and Baghdad supporting the political Shi’a against the opposing strategic camp of the pro-western Sunni governments, communities, and organizations. For the moment, it seems that the decision of Moscow to support the governments of Iraq, Iran, and Syria is turned to be greatly beneficial.

In addition to that, it is not accidental that President Putin has decided to re-trigger an official meeting with President Rouhani. The latter is endorsed by the Westerns with hopes that he will endeavor to smooth down the tough counter-imperialist and fragmented rhetoric of the Mullahs, thus building a minimum trust for Westerns against the nuclear intentions of his country. The “honeymoon” of President Rouhani has just started and from this short period of tranquility President Putin wants to profit.

As a matter of fact and a gesture of good will, the Western block has decided to freeze additional sanctions against Iran in order to give some time to the President Rouhani to move ahead to reforms and to give clear answers, especially regarding the scope of Tehran’s nuclear program. To put it this way, the United States and the European Union -but mostly the United States- cannot deal with Iran’s nuclear program and a possibility to construct a nuclear weapon, whereas for Russia the issue has no similar dimension as it is believed that bilateral relations between Moscow and Tehran can be held and developed in mutual understanding. Nonetheless, this was not always the case in the past.

In fact, during the 19th century Iran lost parts of its territory from Imperial Russia. As a counter-attack the Constitutional Revolution that took place between 1905-11 in Iran was attempting to pull Russians out of the country, but the result was not what Iranians were expecting. After the fall of the Romanov family and the rise of Communism, both the Soviet Union and the British Empire had been sending troops to control and impose their rule in Iran. Things changed roughly in 1979 with reference to the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the growing anti-imperialist and anti-American sentiments of the population and the Mullahs. In 1990 bilateral relations with Russia were fully restored after the countries came into agreement on dealing with the civil war in the adjacent Tajikistan. After that, relations have been strengthened consistently over the years.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that Russia has every right to feel blessed regarding its relationship with Iran. Economic and commercial transactions between both countries surpass $4 billion, Russia sells nuclear technology, weapons, and wheat. And further, the fact that Iran is isolated comes in profit of Russia in terms of oil as it turns to be the major exporter of the region whereas with Iran competitiveness would be much higher. Yet, there are issues at stake that Russia has to deal with (along with Iran): What if the embargo keeps going indefinitely? How Iran could be in position to buy weapons from Russia under such tough restrictions? How Lukoil, Gazprom and other giants of the economy could get infiltrated and invest in Iran? Under such an environment, I believe that the meeting between Putin and Rouhani has a special interest not only in bilateral level, but also in regional level.

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