Mahmoud Shoori: 'The Russian-Arab ties have no substantial influence over the future of the Iranian-Russian relationship'
Date of publication : February 24, 2016 17:09 pm
On 23 November 2015, The Russian president Vladimir Putin made his first visit to Iran in nearly a decade, seeking to expand the bilateral relationship and cement the countries' partnership against the terrorist groups in Syria. While both countries are expecting a strategic alliance in the region, the Russian-Arab growing friendship casts doubt on the seriousness of such alliance. The IRAS Institute asked Mahmoud Shoori, The IRAS Institute senior analyst for Russia, to interpret the Russian approach to the Middle Eastern countries.
How do you define Russian Middle East Policy, in particular, towards Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia?
Russia is pursuing multiple and varied objectives in the Middle East. In fact, Russian Middle East policy has always been based on a balanced relationship with Iran and other regional powers. However, the Syria conflict and recent Russian jet shootdown make the case complicated, to the detriment of Russia-Turkey relationship. On Saudi Arabia, although not enjoying a special relationship with the Kingdom in years ago, Moscow has strived for better bilateral ties, the same as Saudi Arabia. The exception is that the Kingdom petrodollars funneled through investment firms has aimed for Influence over Russia’s policy in the region. That is why the Kremlin sometimes closes its eyes to some Saudi behaviors towards the turbulent region.”
With Respect to recent tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, senior Shia cleric in the Kingdom, and the attack on Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, how do you interpret the Russian reactions?
“Russia is always reluctant to the human rights debates. Recent Saudi execution of a distinguished Shia cleric is not a good cause to stir up outrage over Riyadh behaviors, accordingly. While expecting Russia as one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, condemn the recent Saudi human rights violation, the Iranian nations face a harsh statements the Kremlin issue regarding the Saudi embassy attack in Tehran. Such attitudes suggest Russia wants to show its international responsibility, besides strengthening ties with the Kingdom.”
Despite growing condemnations of Saudi domestic and regional policies, why maintaining a relationship with Saudi Arabia is vital to Russia?
“Two reasons are more popular. Absence of lucrative economic ties with Turkey and Western financial restrictions against Russia make the Kremlin have eyes on the Saudi petrodollars, hoping a safeguard from any financial difficulties in the near future. So if that is to be true, then Russia’s attempt to maintain and boost bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia makes sense.”
Some analysts believe that Russian behavior towards the Middle East and its reactions to the on-going tug of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is but oil price which requires a cordial relation with the Kingdom. How do you see the picture?
“Low oil price is one very key factor defines Russian regional policy. Indeed, the very objective the Kremlin is looking for is to stop oil price drop, thus, requiring a better cooperation with the Saudis. So far, all Russian efforts would be in vain and nothing is really achieved. I should once more put emphasis on the importance of economy on the Russian foreign relations. Current Russia-Saudi bonds prove money talks. Therefore, no further tensions would Russia seek to arise, for the sake of financial ties in the future.”
Given frequent Saudi top officials’ visits to Moscow and Turkey’s endeavor to strengthen ties with the Arab nations, Saudi Arabia in particular, how do you assess the current Iranian regional power with respect to the announcement about its strategic partnership with Russia?
“The fate of Iranian-Russian relations, though significant to each other, has not been solely in their hands. The kind of policies the West pursued in the past and the current influence the Arab world exerts play a negative role, to the detriment of both nations. I assume that Iran’s strategic partnership with Russia seems like a dream; however, it does not mean their bilateral and regional cooperation is in vain. See the case of Syria’s war. Tehran and Moscow, not harmoniously collaborating, demonstrate a great sense of mutual cooperation that could change the balance of power in the battlefield.”
Is the Russian-Arab friendship widely interpreted as a zero-sum game to Iran?
“Russia’s growing contacts with the Arab world do not necessarily mean Iran is of inferior importance to Russia, being replaced with the Arab world. On the other hand, for the Arab nations, Russia is not as indispensable as the West to make a paradigm shift in their foreign policies. So, I think that the Russian-Arab ties have no substantial influence over the future of the Iranian-Russian relationship.”