Where are Russia-Iran relations going?

08:18, April 27, 2010      

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has recently told Iran that there will be "serious consequences" if Tehran keeps its stance on the nuclear issue. Lavrov's remarks were considered as the most serious warning Russia has issued to Iran so far.

Meanwhile, Russia also announced it would not support the final document of the international nuclear disarmament conference recently held in Tehran.

As a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran is taking shape, the latest developments in Russia-Iran relations caught the world's attention.

Many analysts are trying to find answers to the following questions: Why such a sharp turn in the Russia-Iran relationship? What is next?


Analysts say the following three reasons may explain why Russia has been increasingly tough on Iran on the nuclear issue.

The first is Russia's need to maintain a cooperative relationship with the United States. Since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in 2009, Russia and the United States are trying to improve their relations based on their strategic interests.

Earlier this month, the two countries signed a new treaty to reduce and restrict offensive strategic weapons after arduous negotiations.

Later at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, the two countries also signed agreements to reduce plutonium, thus reactivating the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement which had been suspended for 10 years.

In the context of a general improvement in Russia-U.S. relations, Russia does not want Iran's nuclear issue spoil its cooperation with the United States, and thus decided to harden its position on Iran.

Second, Russia has its own needs to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. Since Iran turned down the International Atomic Energy Agency's proposal on nuclear fuel trading and has begun to produce enriched uranium, the process to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue has been deadlocked.

But Russia does not want to completely follow the United States and other Western countries which have been seeking stricter sanctions against Iran.

So the hardening of Russia's stance on Iran is based on calculations that by applying greater pressures on Iran and forcing it to make concessions on the nuclear issue, Russia could avoid a dilemma where it will have to choose either to offend the United States and other Western countries, or have a profound rift with Iran.

Furthermore, there are also inherent problems in Russia-Iran relations. Iran is dissatisfied with Russia's swinging positions on the nuclear issue and there are frictions between the two countries on other issues, including the incompletion of the construction of an Iranian nuclear power plant that Russia helped to build, and the delayed delivery of Russian S-300 air defense missiles.


Iran has always regarded Russia as a major shield against Western sanctions. So Russia's latest statements on the Iranian nuclear issue are undoubtedly putting Iran under greater pressure.

However, analysts pointed out that Tehran has taken the development of nuclear technology and peaceful use of nuclear energy as the country's established strategy, which is part of its national pride and its pursuit of regional power status.

So it is unlikely for Iran to completely yield to Russian pressure.

As a reminder, even in the face of serious threats from the United States, Iran has not changed its position on the nuclear issue. So in this case, it will still be difficult for Russia to force Iran to change course completely.

Iran has recently made a series of defiant moves to the threats from the United States. On April 9, during the National Nuclear Technology Day celebrations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran has developed third-generation centrifuges, touting the country's ability to develop nuclear technology on its own.

When the nuclear security summit was held in Washington, the Iranian government countered with convening an international nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran.

Iran also staged large-scale military exercises in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, demonstrating its determination and ability to secure the region.


Differences over the Iranian nuclear issue has caused tension in Russia-Iran relations. Will the relationship break up?

Analysts said that in fact, Russia has not essentially changed its basic positions on the the Iranian nuclear issue and has generally been adhering to the "contention and cooperation" approach.

Russia acknowledges Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but says its nuclear program must be put under supervision and inspection of the international community. In other words, Iran's nuclear program must be based on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and cannot be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Analysts believe that Russia may continue to take a tough stance based on its own interests and the need to cooperate with the United States on global strategy unless Iran softens its position on the nuclear issue and cooperates with the international community.

But many Russian experts said the hard-line stance will unlikely lead to a complete breakup of the Russia-Iran relationship, which is not in the interests of Russia, and that Russia's tough stance is more verbal than practical.

Analysts said that by worsening its relations with Iran, a key regional power, Russia's position in the Middle East could be weakened, and by abandoning a traditional ally, Russia's image as a world power could be undermined.

In addition, deterioration of bilateral relations will also hurt Russia's economic interests.



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