Russia to ensure protection of Iranian nuclear assets?
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
It seems Russia, as a rare gesture in diplomacy with Islamic world, has taken as it its prerogative to protect Iran, its long time arms customer in the Gulf, from any possible enemy attacks aiming at its nuclear assets. Russo-Iranian bilateral trade has been increasing manifolds in recent years.
Apart from trade in arms and technology to Iran, Russia and Iran also have a number of shared geopolitical interests in the greater Middle East, including combating Sunni extremism in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and maintaining a stable governance regime in the Caspian Sea that excludes Western actors.
Iran and Russia are working to secure Iran from any future military intervention to stop its nuclear program whilst securing an economically hard-pressed Russia a lucrative market for its arms exports. The signing of the Russian-Iranian Military Cooperation Agreement on January 20 in Moscow is considered to be the document to ensure stability of Iranian nuclear advancement.’ The Cooperation Agreement includes exchanges of military personnel for training purposes, and an understanding enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.
Both sides have been cooperating on mutually on military related matters and a flurry of Russo-Iranian bilateral accords testifies the high intent of taking bilateral relations to new heights. a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the principles of trade and economic relations (August 2014) and a Joint Trade Commission meeting (September 2014) at which both sides committed to increasing bilateral trade tenfold. This last factor is particularly important in supporting Russia’s efforts to diversify its imports in the face of Western sanctions. Finally, in November 2014 Russia and Iran signed an agreement regarding Russian participation in the construction of up to eight new nuclear power units throughout Iran.
Further details are set to be agreed during a later visit by Vladimir Putin to Iran.
Resuscitating the possibility that Russia may supply Iran with advanced air defense systems, primarily the S-300 or S-400 SAM systems would represent a major impediment to the lifting of further sanctions on Iran, though Russian sale of these weapons would breach the sanctions regime agreed in 2010.
The arms deal with Iran is applauded by the energy lobby led by the state-owned giants Rosneft and Gazprom, and the arms manufacturing lobby, currently preeminent and flush with cash due to Russia’s ruinously expensive military modernization program. These serve as the main internal drivers of Russian foreign policy.
Iran holds the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves, behind Russia. Sanctions have badly harmed the economies of both Russia and Iran. While Russia is under severe tension on account of sanctions, besides sanctions Iran’s oil revenues are also now somewhat low with already rock-bottom oil prices.
Soon Iran re-enters the energy market as a full participant. To regain market share lost during the decades long sanctions regime Iran will need to dramatically increase production and begin aggressively sourcing new markets.
Russian energy exports are already under pressure over the short and medium terms from the shale gas revolution in the USA and the proliferation of LNG infrastructure across the EU, Russia’s most lucrative market.
Moscow is trying to offset its isolation in the West by prolonging the Iranian negotiations as it provides an opportunity for Russia to continue to present itself as an indispensable power in international relations. Sale of arms to Iran and Syria helps the Kremlin overcome the financial crunch it faces due to western sanctions.
Western sanctions have brought Russia and Iran together. Continued exclusion from the wider global community may also serve to make Iran more amenable to Russian overtures to seek membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an increasingly important regional security infrastructure dominated by Russia and China.
Russia decommissioned the unaffordable South Stream project by putting in process a new “Turk Stream” pipeline. This will connect Russia gas producers to the southeast of Europe via an underwater link to a proposed pipeline corridor through Turkey. The pressure that Russia is putting on Turkey, Azerbaijan and the EU to make sure connecting infrastructure is in place by the time this pipeline is operational.
Russia is, of course, pursuing its national interest as it acts through international institutions or negotiating formats to derail or block actions that are deemed detrimental to Russia’s national interest. The strong Russian presence in the OSCE continually blocks the deployment of a meaningful international monitoring force in Ukraine.
While the conflict in Ukraine has caused a deepening rift between Russia and the West in Europe, areas of cooperation outside of this theater – including the long-term sustainability of the Afghan state, managing the disposal of Syrian chemical and biological weapons, Russo-American nuclear disarmament talks, and finally Iran – continue to provide the Kremlin with the international platform it feels is Russia’s due.
That the same Putin could not save his former ally Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is already in history as the Russia itself was a major target of the US led NATO forces for its support for Iraq until the last moment when Russia abandoned President Saddam to his own cruel fate.
And obviously, the Kremlin assurance has made Tehran essentially happy because Moscow is not known to break its word, unless forced by USA.