Anton Khlopkov, Director of Russian Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS), sat down week ago with The IRAS Institute for an interview about Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran and other bilateral and regional topics. The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview.
What are new areas of nuclear cooperation between Iran and Russia?
“There are two fields of cooperation between Iran and Russia in the new phase. The first phase is related to the peaceful uses of nuclear programs. As you know, the first phase of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is being operationalized. So far as I know, this project can provide 2 percent of the electricity of Iran. In addition, nuclear cooperation is taking place in medical fields, for example, the production of Molybdenum-99 Radioactive Isotope used for the diagnosis of cancer. Iran and Russia are interested in developing their cooperation in this field. Both countries signed numerous documents regarding peaceful uses of nuclear programs on November 11th
, 2014 such as Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant phase 2 and 3 contracts. Thus, this is a main field which will be developed in the relations of the two countries.”
“Furthermore, the two sides are interested in increasing and developing the production of medical isotopes using nuclear technology. Russia provides Iran with the nuclear fuel needed for nuclear power plants. It is obvious that one-third of the annual fuel of such power plants should be changed. This is also done by Russia. Another part of Russia-Iranian Agreement on June, 2015 is related to disposal of radioactive waste from Iran. Iran fulfilled its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). A part of this waste was transferred to Russia and some is remaining which requires to be transferred and maintained. The second field is related to Iran-Russian scientists' cooperation which is in fact related to the reconstruction projects of Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) and turning it into an isotope stabilization center. The isotope of this center can also have wide medical applications. Previously, FFEP was used to enrich Uranium. In the framework of the contract between Iran and P5+1, it was agreed to transform FFEP to a research center in which Iranian and Russian scientists cooperate to produce isotopes with medical applications using Russian technology.”
Do you think the nuclear cooperation will remain top priority for Iran and Russia, or other areas of cooperation will be on their agenda?
“As an expert in nuclear issues, I believe that nuclear issues in civilian areas are as important as in military areas. Regarding national interest, Iran and Russia cannot restrict their cooperation to nuclear issues. Technical and defensive cooperation is also very important. I think our interactions in Syria showed how effective this cooperation can be in international security. The next phase is economic cooperation. In the recent travel of Dr. Velayati to Moscow, I told the Iranian Ambassador in Russia that when I am buying Kiwi and Cucumber in Moscow; if I see that these products are from Iran, I will purchase more than I need because Iranian goods are of a high quality. Increased fruit and vegetable import from Iran is very important to us. I point out that this field cannot stabilize our cooperation. There should be more stable cooperation fields between Iran and Russia. Great projects should be done. In fact, mega-projects should be defined between the two countries for example nuclear power plants, thermal power plants, common infrastructure projects, construction of metro in Iran and especially cooperation in fields in which Iran is interested. Unfortunately, Russia and Iran have not been able to make good use of the competences between the two countries during the last 15 to 20 years. The Economic exchange between Iran and Russia was about 1.5 billion dollars in the previous year which obviously does not meet the economic capacity of the two countries. Therefore, it is important to develop the cooperation of the two countries in the fields of economics, science and technology.”
“Iran has a significant population of educated individuals. Despite the numerous sanctions imposed upon Iran, the country has trained very good scientific and expert individuals in various fields including nanotechnology. Cooperation between the two countries should be comprehensive. We cannot restrict our cooperation to military areas. However, we should see what we can do. It is quite obvious that gas is the main product exported from Iran to Russia. Iran and Russia must be realistic and define a specific structure in this regard based on which they should interact and define their energy resources. Russia and Iran had better synchronize their policies in the field of energy in a way not to disturb each other's interests.”
Given Russia has enjoyed a cordial relationship with regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, how do you assess Iran's role in this context?
“This is a typical question I have frequently been asked by my Iranian friends. I think there is too much concern regarding Russia-Israel and Russia-Saudi Arabia relations. I do not understand the reason behind all this concern. The first point is that compared with Iran-Russian ties, the current level of relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia is significantly below the expectation. In my view, Iran-Russia relations have overshadowed Russia-Saudi Arabia relations. The second point is about Israel-Russia relations regarding the great number of Russian citizens living in Israel and vice versa. Russia has different relations with Israel. Regarding the crisis in Syria, we know that there cannot be diplomatic relations between Iran and Israel regarding Syria. Russia has separate relations with Iran and Israel in this regard. In my view, the role of Russia increases the capacity to resolve this problem in the region especially in Syria. Russia's interaction with Israel on the Syrian issue does not lead to loss or damage to relations between Iran and Russia. On the contrary, it makes Russia meet the requirements to improve its relations with Iran. The dialog in these fields makes Russia a more powerful friend and political partner for Iran. I repeat that the conversation between Russia and Israel and between Russia and Iran about the Syrian issue enriches Iran-Russia relations. We hope these relations lead to the resolution of the crisis in Syria and other issues in the region.”
“It is no secret that the Jewish has a strong lobby in Russia and this puts a high pressure on and apposes with Russia-Iran relations. But Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its goodwill. For example, as you know, there were initially many discussions regarding the construction of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, but, Russia fulfilled its obligations. In addition, S-300 Missile System transfer is in force despite the Israeli pressures. The Russians set their relations with other countries according to their interests and are trying to neutralize foreign pressures. The level of Russia-Israel and Russia-Saudi Arabia relations will not affect Russia-Iran relations.”