Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L-R back) during a meeting at Sochi's Rus health resort on November 22, 2017
One of the major limitations of the relations between Iran and post-soviet Russia is that they lack strategy and stability and are influenced by third variables, especially the West. Consequently, repetitive discussions still take place (especially by the Iranians) on whether these relations are strategic or not. Moreover, there are unrealistic expectations (especially on the part of the Iranians) that Russia has to “certainly” take into account Iranian concerns in its relations with America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Furthermore, unrealistic estimations are produced concerning the dimensions of the relations between the two countries (the selective, security and geopolitical interactions of the two countries in Syria are taken to be more than what they actually are). Along with these issues, the question has always been raised whether any stable foundation can be defined for these relations to make them more predictable, or if the current level of relations is the final one and we must be satisfied with tactical and short-term interactions that have a case by case basis (including those in Syria) and expect no more.
This article assumes that, despite differences between Iran and Russia at bilateral, regional, and international levels, the model of “balance and active deterrence” that Iran and Russia employed in Syria can be relatively stabilized in the relations between the two countries and be used as a basis for relatively stable interactions considering the persistence of security and geopolitical necessities. The following are some of these necessities:
1. The changing regional and international conditions; instabilities resulting from changes in these domains and the transition of the international system and of regional systems to the new order.
2. The emphasis put by America on continuing its aggressive policy in the international arena including against Iran and Russia, and on the policy of exerting pressure on these two countries in the format of sanctions and military containment.
3. Persistence and intensification of trans-boundary asymmetric threats including international terrorism that by themselves, or under the guidance of some countries, have created challenges against the interests of Iran and Russia and will continue to do so in future.
Afghanistan is one arena where this model can be employed. Although Afghanistan is different from Syria, yet all three necessities that forced Iran and Russia to cooperate in Syria exist in Afghanistan:
1. The influence of Afghanistan on regional instability
2. US use of Afghanistan for geopolitical containment of Iran and Russia
3. The threat of using trans-boundary terrorism (Taliban and Daesh)
Although security and geopolitical urgencies in Syria have forced Iran and Russia to cooperate non-selectively, yet the two countries can put their interactions in Afghanistan for reducing and eliminating the mentioned symmetric and asymmetric threats on their agenda through employing a selective, innovative, cooperative, and mutually beneficial approach. This cooperation does not necessarily mean military interaction and can be made operational in various ways. At the same time, although such cooperation will still be “selective” and have its own limitations, its expanded interpretation as the interactions between Iran and Russia in Syria will not be correct. Nevertheless, it can create more stable and more predictable trends using the “balance and deterrence” model.
One of the mechanisms that will be effective in helping this stability will be the institutionalization of the relations through institutional and organizational cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union, and even in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Although these organizations lack the necessary efficiency, and we should not have broad expectations of them, of Iran’s interactions with them, and of cooperation between Iran and Russia in these organizations, yet this way of institutionalizing the relations can put the relations between the countries in a relatively clearer framework.
© Network for Public Policy Studies
Alireza Nouri, an assistant professor at Shahid Beheshti University (SBU), is the fellow at IRAS.
To comment on this article, please contact IRAS Editorial Board