OPINION | Russia’s Growing Military Power and Iran's Reaction
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OPINION | Russia’s Growing Military Power and Iran's Reaction

By Seyyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini
Assistant Professor of Political Science & Expert on Central Asia and Caucasus Affairs
 Payam Noor University, Iran

OPINION | Russia’s Growing Military Power and Iran's Reaction

Image Attribute: Jan. 20, 2015 photo Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second left, and Iran's Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, second right, sign an agreement to expand military ties in Tehran Iran. Sergei Shoigu, in remarks carried by Russian news agencies, said Moscow wants to develop a "long-term and multifaceted" military relationship with Iran. He said that the new agreement includes expanded counter-terrorism cooperation, exchanges of military personnel for training purposes and an understanding for each country's navy to more frequently use the other's ports. (AP Photo/ Vadim Savitsky, Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)

Despite a host of financial problems that are facing the Russian Federation now, which have been made even worse by Western sanctions against the country, Moscow still allocates a large part of its annual budget to military affairs, because in view of its regional, international and financial policies, it has to continue bolstering its military sector. This comes at a time that the historical country of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in view of the history of Iran-Russia battles in the 18th century, continues to maintain a cautious distance from Russia while at the same time, avoiding resistance against Russia in a subtle and calculated manner, trying not to interfere in those issues that are considered as vital by Russia. The most important example to the point was the two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s. This policy has been governing Iran's other approaches to Russia as well.

Of course, Russians themselves do not see Iran in a similar light and what is usual among Russian politicians and analysts is often expressed with such phrases as: “Iran is ready to throw itself in the West’s arms in the first possible opportunity,” and “financially speaking, Iran is part of the Western economy while in political, strategic, military and security terms, it is critically and historically dependent on the West.” These approaches are indicative of the historical approach taken by Russians to all foreigners, especially Iran, in which one can see streaks of conspiracy theory; the Marxist economic theory, which stresses the existence of a global capitalist system; and the history of rivalries between Britain and Russia in Iran. Since Iran is trying to promote and meet its national interests through an independent approach, Russians, for example, in the case of sanctions imposed by the European Union against their country, accused Iran of trying to take advantage of this situation. They also maintain that Iran is trying not only to push Russia into the arena as the main adversary of the West, but also wants to change this notion that the Iranian government and the Islamic fundamentalism are archenemies of the West by giving that position to Russia following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Moscow.

But how does Iran look at this issue? What functional variables are there in Iranians’ approach to Russia? It must be noted that during the past three centuries that Iran has been undergoing the process of modernity, it has had its biggest battles against Russia (from 1813 to 1828) and the best parts of the Iranian territory have been detached from the mainland by Russia through those battles. Iran has been also suffering from colonialistic rivalries of Russia on its soil. Therefore, Iran still looks at Caucasus with a nostalgic eye and, at the same time, the theory that has underlain all Iranian approaches to Russia is that the Iranian policy is not willing to make the hibernating Russian bear show a sudden reaction and is especially sensitive about domestic and foreign policies as well as transregional attitude and military and financial might of Russia. The potential and active threats that Iran senses from its neighboring countries, especially in the Middle East and Russia, form the bedrock of the viewpoint of Iranian politicians. Therefore, although Russia is a major economic partner for Iran and Iranians are largely inclined toward Russia in international equations and take sides with it, they remain impartial toward domestic issues of Russia.

On the whole, Iran is countering potential threats from Russia in its own special way, which has its roots in the country’s hard-earned experiences. At the same time, it is seriously trying to avoid any direct faceoff with this hibernating bear and does not want to provide grounds for Russia to show direct reaction to Iran. Following the conclusion of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities, Iran will have an opportunity to stay out of the way of harm that comes from the West and bolster its domestic strength, while at the same time, provide necessary grounds for the country’s economic prosperity by entering the world’s free markets. The political context of the agreement removes Iran from the list of the West’s enemies as a result of which, Russia and the West will shift their rivalries to issues other than Iran.

Of course, there is a paradox here, because the legacy of the Islamic Revolution and internal tensions among political factions in Iran will add to the complexity of Iran's policymaking process. For example, Iran's belief in bolstering its power beyond its borders, especially by offering support for Shia people, and the strong anti-West reactions shown by the country and a large part of Iran's foreign policy approaches, which have their root inside the country, increase overall complexity of the Islamic Republic’s policymaking process, which at times, makes it difficult to understand for foreigners. Knowing domestic roots of these policies will help those parties that look at Iran's foreign policy from outside to see how these policies are both justifiable and inevitable.

Key Words: Russia, Military Power, Iran, Reaction, Western Economy, European Union, Sanctions, Crimean Peninsula, Middle East, Potential Threats, Anti-West, Reactions, Foreign Policy, Hosseini


More By Seyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini:

*Security Approach of Iran and Turkey to Daesh Compared with Europe’s Secret Services:http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Security-Approach-of-Iran-and-Turkey-to-Daesh-Compared-with-Europe-s-Secret-Services.htm

*Photo Credit: IRNA