Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference following talks with their Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu
The history of relations between Iran and the Soviet Union, and especially, the impact of the international system on these relations are thought-provoking and advantageous. The relations between the two states during the two decades before the Islamic Revolution of Iran were unique in the Soviet relations with a state from the Third World. The Imperial Iran experienced broad relations in the 1960s and the 1970s with the Soviet Union, and these relations could be found with the member states of the Eastern Bloc. But Iran, playing a significant role in securing the US interests in the Persian Gulf within the framework of the Twin Pillars policy of the US President, Nixon, in the Middle East, had experienced relations with the Soviet Union in the two decades before the Iranian revolution that was unique among the states belonging to the Western Bloc.
The relations were affected by the US role. The Soviet approach evolved during the decades following the October Revolution, and the Soviet Union considered the role and image of Iran in the world as a state who had to prepare the conditions for a revolution in alignment with the Communist system, and accordingly, the relationship between the two states developed. This relationship started from the Treaty of Friendship (1921) with Reza Shah, and coincided with the end of the Jungle Movement of Gilan, and since then Iran, under the Shah’s regime, became the party involved in the relationship with the Soviet revolutionary government. This relationship was formed with ideological requirements, on the one hand, and with the geopolitical requirements, on the other hand. Though, the Soviet foreign policy was ideological, the geopolitical approach dominated it.
After World War II, the issues regarding the evacuation of Iran by the Red Army, the north oil reserves and the Tudeh Party were raised. The Soviet policy against Dr. Mossadegh, the then Prime Minister of Iran, showed the contradictions in the relationship between Iran and the Soviet Union. The withdrawal of the Red Army from Iran and the issue of Azerbaijan and the 1953 Iranian coup d’état changed the relationship between the two states under the influence of the international equation and power change. The Soviet-Iranian relations continued to the uprising of June 1963, but the Soviet government’s approach toward the White Revolution and the program for economic and social (minus the political) modernization is also important. The Tudeh Party was also active at this time in Iran.
Finally, up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran, the economic ties between Iran and the Soviet Union were unparalleled. In fact, the Iranian government’s obligations on the issue that her soil would not be a place for stationing missiles against the Soviet Union were very important. Technological advances essentially reduced the necessity of this issue for the US, and the need for détente between the US and the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis also paved the way for the reopening of relations between Iran and the Soviet Union. Of course, this only took place in the economic field.
As the Iranian needs were met by the Soviet Union, the Iran’s dependence on the US was prevented, and that is why Iran was growing. The more the relations between Iran and the Soviet Union grew, the more the relations between Iran and the US were prevented. By strengthening the geopolitical approach in the modern Russian policy, in the past two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, except the first decade that the idealistic approach prevailed in Russia, the ground for the development of relations between Iran and Russia was provided.
Iran should be evaluated in terms of the Soviet approach to the Middle East and the need to develop relations with the Middle East. We can see the reconstruction of these behavior patterns in the past two decades with some change occurring in the relations between the two states. Therefore, this historical experience helps us understand the potentials in the development of relations. The program for stabilizing the geopolitical relationship is in the nature of Iran’s geopolitical requirements that will help consolidate the relations, and provide mutual interests.
NB: The unabridged version of this article first presented at "515 Years of Historic Relations between Iran and Russia" Conference held in Tehran, Iran on 30 January, 2017.
Elaheh Koolaee, professor in Regional Studies at University of Tehran, is the head of the Research Department of Central Eurasia Studies.
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