Vladimir Evseev, Head of Caucasus Department of the CIS Institute and Director of the Center for Public Policy Research in Academic Secretary of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) on forecasting, sat down two weeks ago with IRAS for an interview about Russian military cooperation with Iran and other militarily bilateral and regional issue. The following is a condensed version of the interview.
Given Russia’s concern, to what extent the Iran-Russia cooperation turns to strategic level?
“Unfortunately, economic cooperation between Iran and Russia is now in a weak status. The volume of bilateral trade is $1.5 billion which is an insignificant figure. There is an opportunity for increasing this figure to $5 billion this year. There should be economic cooperation between the two countries, but what is more important to us is the political-military field and the most important issue in this field is taking into account the regional security system. We should develop an idea which is difficult to implement but gets us closer to the level of strategic cooperation.”
“Russia is willing to go beyond technical cooperation with Iran and start military cooperation. However, this is not easy to achieve and there is a series of specific problems in this regard. I fully understand that Iran not only wants to buy new weapons but also would like to have the technology to produce them as well, but the case here is the transfer of technology. As you know, technology transfer is something difficult and sensitive and we must specify that what kind of technology exactly we are discussing about. As a military expert, I believe that Iran’s military capacity is very high and I am well aware of its various features and components. I can say that Iran’s army possesses many modern weapons.”
“The second point is that the Iranian army needs professional training and advanced centers for teaching modern methods of war. Russia has now reached a level that can carry a cyber war, for example drones which can be controlled remotely. Iran has not reached this level yet. I think that the Iranian army requires at least 10 years of continuous work to reach this level. Another point is that we cannot control all the technology we transfer to Iran. We need to be assured that these technologies remain only in Iran and will not go elsewhere. What that can be proposed in this regard is construction of a joint facility between Russia and Iran. However, it should be taken into account that how this can be done to provide profitability to both sides.”
Is Russia ready to give Iran strategic weapons?
“There is no mutual understanding of the concept of strategic weapon between Iran and Russia. Iranians believe that strategic weapons should have longer ranges in land, air, and sea, while the concept of strategic weapon in Russia is used for referring to nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. As you know, international forums and organizations maintain tight control over these types. This does not mean that Iran and Russia cannot have cooperation in the field of aerospace.”
“The point here is that the missile defense technology can be promoted using the aerospace technology. Aerospace technology allows you the opportunity to have three-stage missile. This also applies to military rackets. Russia cannot provide Iran with the technology of ballistic missile but we can cooperate with each other in aerospace field. In other words, we should cooperate in areas that are less sensitive and where we have more common grounds.”
So, could Russia resist against the US or Israel’s pressures?
“Although Israel opposed the transfer of S-300 missile system to Iran, Russia has fulfilled its obligations and is transferring these weapons to Iran. Russia heard Israel’s opinion on this issue but did not feel obliged to do it. On the other hand, Israel strongly opposes the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon and that’s the issue Russia cannot cooperate with Iran. We must understand that Israel cannot much influence over the Iran-Russia ties. Israel itself is not important for Russia because it is not a great state, although it owns new and advanced technologies. Israel’s importance to Russia is because of a large number of Russian citizens living in this country. On the other hand, importance of Israel to Russia is like the importance of the US to Russia. We know that the US is not willing to reach an agreement with Russia in any field and especially the Syria crisis. Currently, relations between Iran and Russia depend on Iran-America relations and also Russia-America relations. Our relations should be managed in a way to reduce the role of the US.”
“It is obvious that Iran has its own limitations in terms of the US. We should not take this too seriously. We must remove the US from our relations because it is an external actor in the region and can cause damage to our relations. This is what we need to establish strategic relationship between Iran and Russia. When the presence of the US in the region is strong, this country tries to determine the level of our relations and in this case, our relations will never be promoted to strategic level. It should be noted that the US can also influence over Iran and Russia through Europe. Reducing the influence of the US in the region seems to be a bit difficult and time-consuming and also requires long-term planning.”
“In my opinion, cooperation between Russia and Iran on Syria crisis can reduce the influence of the US on our relations. Some parameters are important to the US. Obama has said that the US will never fight against the world's second largest army. This is an important point. What which can be inferred here is that the US will not fight with Russia on Syria, Turkey, Baltics or Ukraine, and other regions, because all these countries are nothing without the military presence of the US. Presently, the United States has an inconsiderable influence on Russia and this allows Moscow the possibility to have a good mutual relationship with Iran.”