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The Russo-Iranian Coalition That Must Be Stopped


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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine terrorizes the world. With revived nuclear angst and spiking oil and gas prices, the West has chosen to punish Putin’s autocracy with a pack of unprecedented sanctions that have yet to prove efficiency. 

Nonetheless, such sanctions, though well-intended, might present some slightly foreseeable issues. On one hand, it is pushing Biden’s administration to change his tone with Venezuela’s dictator Nicolás Maduro. This tone is, sadly, friendlier, as the American need for oil will only increase.

On the other hand, they are also likely to force Russia to strengthen parallel alliances with governments that hold similar views on the West in order to survive (and potentially triangulate trade). A solid candidate for this is Iran, whose official anti-Americanism can only be matched to Putin’s.

To discuss the nature of this constrained, circumstantial friendship, El American talked with Nazemi Ganjavi, an Iranian entrepreneur and Informatics professional based in Vienna.

Ahmadinejad expressed last week his support to “the great nation of Ukraine,” as he said, and implied that Putin is “an enemy of mankind.” Should this come as a surprise? After all, at the UN extraordinary meeting on this war, Iran abstained. What’s going on there?

I believe that since Ahmadinejad’s presidency ended, he has become bolder in speaking out, as has become a tradition of former presidents such as Khatami, both of whom were barred from running in the 2013 and 2021 presidential elections respectively (in Iran, presidents who have served two terms can run for re-election after four years.) 

Both have openly opposed the war in the harshest terms, with Ahmadinejad calling it a “genocide” and former President Khatami calling it the “suppression of a free nation.” Admittedly, neither holds any positions of power, with Khatami even having some restrictions, such as Iranian state television not being allowed to show or discuss him.

Many of their views, in general, reflect what many Iranians think of Russia, as most Iranians are very nationalistic and keen on their history. It is important to remember that most Iranians have a negative view of Russia, owing to the trauma of losing a significant amount of land in the two Russo-Persian wars in the nineteenth century. Aside from annexing Persian territory, the Russian government has always had a negative influence that has resulted in death, famine, and destruction.

It is important to note that these are not the official views of the Islamic Republic toward Russia, as they are attempting to be neutral while still giving Russia the benefit of the doubt by blaming the war on “NATO aggression.”

This has become a major source of contention in Iran, with many independent politicians, including former MP Ali Motahari, describing the Iranian state media’s coverage of the war as essentially repeating Russian propaganda and claiming the state is “acting like a Russian colony.”

Despite this, the Islamic Republic’s attitude toward Russia and its expansionist policies has always been neutral and abstentionist. Iran has experienced many of the same problems with separatism as Georgia and Ukraine, with many external nations attempting to use this to potentially partition Iran, particularly in the Northwest. This is why Iran will not condemn Russia’s actions but will also not support them, as doing so would put Iran in a vulnerable position, as they would be supporting a policy that could be used against them. 

The recent UN General Assembly vote is therefore not unusual, as Iran also abstained from condemning the Georgian War and has stated openly that it will not recognize the so-called independence of South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

How do Iranians see this in the context of the Iran—Iraq war and even in the Syrian civil war, where both countries are allies? How were relations between Iran and post-Soviet Russia?

As you are aware, most Iranians tend to vote for more reformist candidates when given the opportunity. If you look at the Reformist media and their coverage of the war, you will see that most see a parallel between this war and the Iran-Iraq war. Many Iranians had similar experiences to Ukrainians, and the Iraqi government used many of the same talking points to justify the invasion, such as discrimination against the Arab minority in southern Iran.

The deadly bombing campaigns are also similar, as Iraq bombed many metropolitan cities to cause psychological harm to the public. Iranians who had to flee the bombing see many parallels to their own eight-year war experience.

Principlists, on the other hand, appear to be unaware of their contradiction and are so taken aback by their Anti-Americanism ideology that they essentially blame NATO, and claim the U.S. is not a good ally for Ukraine. 

To grasp this, you must first comprehend much of it is heavily influenced by Russian propaganda, particularly through the influence of thinkers like Alexander Dugin, who frequently attends Principlist conferences and has used Russia’s support for the Syrian war to increase pro-Russian sentiment among them. 

The Syrian civil war is intriguing in terms of Iranian-Russian relations because, in my opinion, relations were not ideal prior to the war. In general, relations improved after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Iran was less concerned with spreading its revolution around the world. 

During Yeltsin’s presidency, Iran was able to persuade Russia to continue construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor due to necessity and the poor reputation of Chernobyl, but relations remained strained. This explains Russia’s support for UN Security Council sanctions during the G.W Bush and Obama administrations, as well as Russian President Medvedev’s refusal to sell S300 missiles to Iran during his presidency.

When the Syrian civil war began, relations significantly improved, and the main supporters, the Principlists, who have prioritized this issue and hold important positions of power in the Intelligence Ministry and the Revolutionary Guard, began to see Russia as a more positive country with which they can collaborate.

 Russia, on the other hand, became more isolated and sanctioned following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and began to work more closely with Iran, even selling weapons, such as S300 missiles and inviting Iran to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Group, both of which were previously unthinkable. 

In general, because the Principlists hold the majority of power in the country, and Khamenei is essentially one of them, their point of view has always been dominant even with a Reformist president. Finally, both countries are forced to collaborate out of necessity, and the only ideological agreement they may now have is their contempt for liberalism and the West, as demonstrated by Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The Soviet Union was the first state to recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. The Ayatollah, however, thought communism was incompatible with Islam, as the former promotes atheism.

True, the Soviet Union, like many other countries, attempted to establish good relations with Iran. Much of it is based on Khomeini’s highly effective propaganda prior to the revolution. Khomeini delivered numerous speeches in which he essentially stated that in the Islamic Republic, people would have free speech and Communists would be able to participate in the political process. 

As the Shah was their common enemy, Communist parties in Iran openly supported Khomeini, and many of them, such as the Tudeh Party, were actively supported by the Soviet Union.

When the revolution was over, Khomeini changed his tone and began a purge of Communists, arresting and even killing them.

Another issue for the Soviet Union was the Islamic Republic’s official policy of supporting and spreading the revolution throughout the Islamic world. The Soviet Union had 45 million Muslims at the time, including in many areas where they were the majority population. Both contributed to the Soviet Union’s fear of Iran, and their open support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

Relations between the countries remained strained, but the Soviets attempted to improve relations during Gorbachev’s tenure. However, it never improved due to Khomeini’s anti-soviet communism.  

Despite its bad relations with the Soviet Union, Iran had good relations with Communist satellite states that did not have Muslim populations, such as East Germany, Romania, Cuba, and especially North Korea, where many Iranians were sent for intelligence training. Even today relations with Cuba are cordial with the Cuban sending their vaccines to the Iranian during the pandemic. 

With the emergence of 21st-century socialist states, many of them, including Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, established cordial relations with Iran, primarily because of their shared friendship with Cuba and opposition to the United States.

What role does Iran’s nuclear program play in all this?

Since the election of Joe Biden, Obama’s former Vice President and the original co-creator of the JCPOA agreement, there has been hope that this agreement will be revived. 

At the start of his presidency, Biden was forced to wait because Khamenei was stalling to ensure Rouhani got a chance to implement it. In general, Khamenei disliked Rouhani and, in the end, sabotaged his presidency by making it difficult for him to obtain vaccines. 

In general, the new President Raeisi has the leader’s support for the time being, and there are rumors in the country that he is grooming him to eventually succeed him. When Raeisi arrived, he initially tried to take a hard-line stance on the JCPOA, but it has since been revealed that this was all diplomatic bluffing, as it appears that the new negotiations will be the same as those conducted during the Obama administration.

The war between Russia and Ukraine is complicating matters. Russia is now the most sanctioned country in the world, and the West is looking for ways to buy oil from countries that will further isolate Russia. 

Russia is now attempting to find a way to benefit from the JCPOA agreement by establishing a way to use Iran to potentially do international trade indirectly. This has come as a shock and surprise to Iran, which has prioritized this deal.  

It is worth noting that during previous JCPOA negotiations, Russia began to make the discussions more difficult, and based on leaked audio conversations with former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, he believes that Russia attempted to sabotage the Nuclear deal in collaboration with the Revolutionary Guard and Ghassem Soleimani in order to keep Iran away from the West. So this would not be the first time, but given the Russian government’s desperation, they may take a more aggressive approach this time.

The question is whether this will lead to the deal collapsing, which ironically would mean that it is not America’s fault this time, or whether it will lead the West to do a deal without the Russians because they don’t need this support. When Trump left the nuclear deal in 2018, it was still intact in the United Nations Security Council, implying that there is no need to pass it again. 

It all depends on what Khamenei wants, in my opinion. At the moment, the ball is in Iran’s court, and they have the opportunity to obtain many concessions. The question is whether Khamenei will accept and gain the upper hand in such a deal, or whether he will allow his anti-Americanism to lead to continued isolation with Russia and increased reliance on China. This is something we will see very soon.

Pris Guinovart is a writer, editor and teacher. In 2014, she published her fiction book «The head of God» (Rumbo, Montevideo). She speaks six languages. Columnist since the age of 19, she has written for media in Latin America and the United States // Pris Guinovart es escritora, editora y docente. En 2014, publicó su libro de ficciones «La cabeza de Dios» (Rumbo, Montevideo). Habla seis idiomas. Columnista desde los 19 años, ha escrito para medios de America Latina y Estados Unidos

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