Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, sat down with IRAS for an exclusive interview about Iran’s cooperating with Russia. This interview has been edited for clarity.
In the past two years and in particular after the sanction removals, a new round of military contracts has been started between Iran and Russia. To what extent Tehran-Moscow ties move forward from this military cooperation to a strategic form of cooperation?
“Buying and selling weapons constitute a very small part of defense ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation. In our view, these relations have found a strategic form, especially since the serious and effective entry of Russia to the scene of fighting terrorism in Syria, and the joint military and defense cooperation have been formed with regard to the existing common interests.
“Strategic partnership is followed in terms of the level of relations and meetings between the presidents of the two countries, appointments and contacts between Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, the National Security Council and the Defense Department, and this partnership is also visible in the field and operational measures taken in the Syrian scene.
“Unlike some countries in the region who only buy the American weapons and serve as a warehouse for them, Iran decides on the type of its required weapons - of course, the purchase of these weapons is done on a very limited scale compared with using the weapons designed and produced domestically.”
Iran-Russia cooperation on the Syrian Crisis provides a new basis for military cooperation between the two neighboring countries and consequently, increases the maneuvering power of Russia in the Middle East. Wouldn't Iran ever concern of Moscow increasing maneuvering power in the region?
“Naturally, when the military exercises are held with coordination aiming at a common purpose, there is nothing to worry about. We are concerned about military exercises of countries who move against the security of the region. Countries that support the ISIS and other terrorist groups in terms of arms, finances and information, propose resolutions in the Security Council in these groups’ favor, and also prevent a political solution to the security crises in Syria and Yemen.
“Iran-Russia cooperation is also carried out in the framework of a joint strategic cooperation to counter terrorism in the region, and both parties benefit in this regard.”
From different angle, should this military cooperation considers as an intro to a new regional or even global alliance or it's just a temporary cooperation that has no durable effects on regional and global arrangements?
“If emerged capacities and opportunities are properly used, we can see effective regional alliances being formed to provide security for the region and the world. A recent example is the coalition formed among Iran, Russia, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon which could change the equations in the Syrian scene, and push back terrorists to release Aleppo after years of being occupied by the terrorist groups.
“I think these coalitions are no longer temporary, since they don’t follow a temporary goal. Of course, the threat of terrorism is still considered the top national security threat for the international community. Although the most powerful terrorist group - the ISIS - has had a declining trend over the past two years, and has lost most of the areas under its occupation in Iraq and many areas under its control in Syria, this does not mean the terrorist threat is fading away. On the one hand, the operating geography of the ISIS will change from countries like Iraq and Syria to new areas, and on the other hand, the nature of the threat will change from the military and territorial occupation to security and terrorist threats. Therefore, it is essential to maintain alliances with regard to these changes in the strategic and security equations.
“This coalition, even if it does not require a military action, is still intellectually very important, because how to deal with a terrorist organization is different from dealing with terrorist ideas, and the eradication of terrorist thinking requires destroying its grounds and correcting deviant and extremist ideologies.”
In any level, cooperation between a regional power such as Iran and a global power, namely Russia, not only has strategic consequences for the region and the world, but also it might drive Iran into a course that has no return. To what extent Iran is able to take benefit of cooperation with a global power and not entangled into the global powers' game?
“Cooperation between Iran and Russia in combating terrorism first started within the framework of Russia’s determination to support the legitimate government of Syria in the war on terrorism and secure common strategic interests in this field, and this kind of cooperation still continues. Naturally, at times, our goals may be divergent on issues like Israel, and in these cases a different action will be taken. In general, each country is independent, and regulates its foreign policy based on its national interests. Since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian foreign policy has also been formed based on the principle of independence and the policy of no reliance on world powers. It should be noted that the cooperation does not mean ignoring the independence, but means that there are common goals that can be achieved within the framework of cooperation.
“On the other hand, the strategic partnership between Iran and Russia on Syria has changed the situation of political equations as well. Once America and some Arab countries were trying to question the legitimate government of Syria with financial lobbies, but today in addition to the fact that the situation, and the authority of the Syrian government are stabilized, the Astana talks were also held which advance an important part of the progress in the political process and the negotiations. These are the facts that should be seen in the six-year Syrian crisis, and any analysis of the cooperation, without considering the past and present situations in Syria, will not be complete.”
In the Syria's battle field, Tehran and Moscow's efforts were 'cooperation without commitment'. Although this pattern to large extent was successful, it does not mean that it could generalize to political arena. Given this issue, what tools Iran have to continue this cooperation in the political negotiations?
“The assumption of this question cannot be verified. A strategic military cooperation means that the military capacities of each country are used to achieve synergies and shared objectives by a joint command center. The ability of each of the countries and groups is quite clear in the field situation, and if there had been any feeling of independence in the parties, meaning they had not needed each other, in principle, no alliance for cooperation would have been formed.
“As mentioned, this pattern of cooperation has shown its achievements in the political arena as well, and the best example in this regard is the Astana talks in which the separation between the armed Syrian groups and terrorist groups and the establishment of the cease-fire with them and recently the decision on de-escalation zones in Syria have been approved which are considered a very important step.
“The most important issue is that there is a common analysis regarding future developments in the region, the spread of the threat of terrorist groups and the negative role of America and its forged alliances in the region upon which a good integrity in strategies is shaped in the fight against terrorism and the exchange of experiences.”
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