Since the return of Vladimir Putin to the Russian president’s office in 2012, Russian-Iranian relations have experienced a significant change of course in contrast to the substantial cooling of the bilateral dialogue during the last two years of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency. Unexpected twists in the relationship between Moscow and Tehran have been quite normal since the 1990s. As a result, in 2012, the initial intensification of contact between Russia and Iran looked like just another fluctuation in their dialogue. However, by 2015, it seems that under certain conditions, the rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran may lead to a qualitative change in ties. The current intensity of Moscow’s contact with Tehran is unprecedented in Russia’s post-Soviet history. And this time, political analysts in Iran and Russia believe that both the Russian and Iranian authorities are determined to create a solid foundation for bilateral dialogue that would ensure gradual progress on political and economic ties in the long run and prevent unnecessary negative fluctuations. We asked Nematollah Izadi, Iran’s first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Iran to the Russian Federation, the bilateral relations between the two nations and also discuss with him future of Iran-Russian relationship. The following is a condensed version of the interview.
The USSR became West-oriented in the last years of its existence. This attitude would be in place even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Has this approach been any effects on Iran-USSR/Russian relationship?
“The West-oriented approach of the Soviet Union began when Gorbachev took office as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Five years had passed since the beginning of the Cold War and also three years from the beginning of Iran-Iraq war. In my idea, the Soviet Union became more active on Iran-Iraq war during Gorbachev’s leadership. They tried to finish the story of war based on “carrot and stick” policy, because the Soviet Union was witnessing the two countries for which they had been planning were neutralizing each other. In fact, the Soviet Union’s relations with the West were affecting the war and not its relations with Iran. They became more active in the United Nations and voted for the adoption of Resolution 598. This was the only resolution on Iran-Iraq war which was adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations. In their talks with us, officials of the Soviet Union also mentioned that they were seeking a resolution to end a war.”
“However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia's new orientation to the West had a double impact on Iran-Russia relations. The main reason was that Russia’s foreign policy was strongly oriented towards the West. Perhaps, dissatisfaction of Mr. Yeltsin was another reason for the change in Russia’s approach to Iran. This dissatisfaction was because of our wrong policy on the issue of the August 1991 coup against Mr. Gorbachev. The coup was initiated by the extreme Communists, and the resultant of our behaviors implied the support for putschists. However, the coup failed. I was strongly opposed to supporting the coup. Iran apparently liked the Communists return to make sure about the gap between East and West. More importantly, we always openly addressed Mr. Yeltsin as an American agent and even an alcoholic person.”
“Put this unsuccessful performance besides the policy we adopted towards the independent republics of the former Soviet Union. We arrived on the Nagorno-Karabakh mediation when Russia had all the clues in hand, and I was opposed to mediation. We also overlooked Russians in other cases. At that time, we promulgated an agreement on Iranian gas export to Europe through Azerbaijan and Ukraine, but we did not consider the point that the passage of any pipeline through these countries requires Russia’s approval. Unfortunately, it seemed that the management of Iran's relations with the newly independent republics in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this even caused our relations with Russia to be in trouble. These conditions were the result of our own policies not relations between Russia and the West.”
What you said may lead to understand the Iran-Russian ambivalent relationship. Do both nations suffer from mutual mistrust?
“We are two countries which have great potentials for the development of relations, but there is a high wall of mistrust between us. This is not only the result of Russia’s behavior and we did not correctly use the opportunities. I mentioned some cases in previous questions. We also adopted such a wrong policy on the Caspian Sea. Russians, albeit apparently and in words, did not accept the treaties between Iran and the Soviet Union. They even initially stated we did not need new contracts on the Caspian Sea issue and treaties of 1921 and 1940 are enough in this regard. Our overall performance caused Russians to keep away from us, to the extent that Iran was not invited to the First Summit of Ministers of the Caspian Sea in Astrakhan. When we protested this action, they responded that this is an internal matter of the Commonwealth countries.”
Right now, it is heard the necessity of strategic partnership between Iran and Russia. How could we achieve this goal? Do we have such potential to have strategic relationship?
“There are several reasons for the development of relations. First, we are two neighboring countries. Secondly, we have capacities for cooperation and we can be a complement to each other in terms of political, economic, and regional requirements. The important point is that Russians and we should see what common ground we can have to take it as a thread. In fact, the point is that we are two neighbors that can influence each other’s interests and should adjust our relations based on our advantages. We should be careful about our relations not to be affected by other factors. If now Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs meets and negotiates with the US Secretary of State for hours, this should not be interpreted as declined relations between Iran and Russia. On the contrary, if the same scenario happens to Russians and they get very close to the West, this should not mean forgetting Iran.”
“It cannot be precisely calculated that it should involve how much of the volume of our relations or Russia’s relations. This level of relations may be the second or third priority of Russians but our first priority. Russia may make up 20 or 30 percent of Iran’s foreign relations, while Iran may account for only one percent or a few percent of Russia’s foreign relations. Although the international and regional status of these two countries are different, Russians have had faults and even mistakes in determining the exact position of Iran in their foreign relations. In addition, both Russia and Iran sometimes have a cross-sectional approach to their mutual relations with each other. Therefore, preservation of originality in Iran-Russia relations should be taken as a basic principle. Almost everyone who speaks about strategic relations in Iran-Russia ties is making a mistake. We cannot have strategic relations with Russia, because our objectives sometimes are in conflict. Strategic relations are usually established between two countries that one is fully superior over another. However, there is a very extensive space for relations and we can have the best relations at the highest level possible. In this regard, there should be mutual understanding between Iran and Russia, and we should specify that what we expect from each other and how we can take advantage of each other’s capabilities. In fact, we should have a strategy for our relations.”