In 1941 the Allied forces had invaded Iran and used the country’s territory as a transportation route to provide vital supplies to the then Soviet Union’s war efforts against the advancing German forces.
However, at the end of the World War II and in defiance of all international treaties, the Soviet Red Army refused to relinquish its occupation of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, leading to what became internationally known in 1946 as the “Iran Crisis”. While continuing with its occupation of another country’s soil, with the help of the pro-Moscow Tudeh Communist Party of Iran, the Red Army had helped a separatist movement establish a puppet “People’s Republic” in the ancient province of Azerbaijan, which collapsed overnight when Stalin withdrew his backing for it after receiving an ultimatum from the then US President Harry Truman. Historians believe this conflict was one of the first episodes of the ensuing Cold War outside Europe. However, the Russian’s aggression against Iran was nothing new.
The history of Iran-Russia relations is packed with dark chapters of Moscow manipulating and abusing its southern neighbour for its own political, economic and territorial advantage. From the shameful treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828), after a series of wars in which several major Iranian cities were annexed to the Czars’ empire; to assisting the bombardment of Iran’s first ever parliament in support of a despot Qajar king in 1905; from cynically supplying armaments to Saddam Hussein in the killing-fields-like Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s; to milking billions of dollars from Iran over 20 years to build the still uncompleted and dysfunctional Bushehr nuclear plant – Russia’s interference in Iran has achieved nothing but colossal damage to the country’s independence and its people’s prosperity. This has been especially true under the rule of the mullahs.
It appears that the centuries-old dream of Peter the Great, to see his army eventually wash their boots in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, has finally come true as a result of the collaboration between the present regimes in Tehran and Moscow.
The anti-Americanism element of the Islamic Revolution that toppled the pro-western regime of the Shah and the consequent escalation of relations between Tehran and Washington over the US Embassy hostage crisis have in turn pushed Iran into seeking an alliance with Russia.
The presence of pro-Moscow Tudeh Party activists among Ayatollah Khomeini’s inner circles played a major role in creating this alliance, which has survived to this day between Khomeini’s successor Ali Khamenei and Iran’s new Russian trained and equipped military elite in the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Since 1991, Russia has been the main supplier of modern arms to Iran, taking advantage of its entry into Iran’s industries by building the Bushehr power plant at an estimated cost of $1bn, so far.
However, Russia’s military and economic benefits from Iran under the ayatollahs come as part of a wider and more complex consideration rather than simply fanning animosities between Tehran and the Western powers.
As Richard Weitz recently wrote in The diplomat: “Russian officials have to balance a complex set of goals in their relations with Tehran: supporting nonproliferation, averting war or regime change, maintaining regional security, minimising sanctions, enhancing Moscow’s diplomatic leverage, limiting US influence in Eurasia, and advancing energy and economic cooperation. The hierarchy of these objectives varies depending on changing circumstances. Furthermore, some of these aims conflict, at least in the short run, requiring Russian policymakers to choose among them or behave schizophrenically”.
To discover how this egregious collaboration will end we need look no further than the fate of other dictatorial regimes foolish enough to have embraced Russia as an ally.
In Syria, devastated after three years of a bloody civil war, at least 150,000 people have been killed and millions more made refugees thanks to Russia and Iran’s continued support of Bashar Assad’s ruthless and murderous regime.
Now, due to international pressure and changes in the region’s political map, fickle Russia cannot see any future for its lackey in Damascus and has begun gradually to back off from supporting Assad. Instead, it has accepted a plan for a transitional government for Syria, in almost the same fashion as it did in Iraq with Saddam Hussein – Russia’s other stooge dictator in the Middle East.
The Putin administration’s close links with major Russian business enterprises and overseas corporations have turned it into acting almost as a powerful lobbying force and thereby one of the main features of Russian foreign policy. As such, Russia has taken full advantage of the paranoia of the Iranian religious leadership regarding the West by supplying Iran’s repressive state apparatus with second-rate military equipment while charging Tehran astronomical sums in return; meanwhile it trains Iran’s troops to a standard guaranteed never to pose a threat to Russia.
Having charged Iran $800 million to supply the country’s army with its sophisticated long range S-300 air defence missiles system seven years ago, Russia decided in 2010 to call off the sale, citing “international sanctions” on Tehran for its decision – conveniently ignoring the fact that Russia’s continued support for Iran’s ruinous nuclear programme was what led to the imposition of sanctions in the first place.
Further plundering of the Iranian people’s money by the Russians can of course be seen in the billions of dollars paid for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, eternally unfinished but perhaps one day powerful enough to heat a samovar.
Undoubtedly, Russia’s generous diplomatic and technological support of Iran’s nuclear programme over the last two decades has given the Islamic Republic the impression it can safely continue with its suspicious programme and its anti-western and destabilising regional policies.
It appears the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people simply do not matter in this cynical geo-political game being played out by the same adversaries of the old Cold War.
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on earth by area, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea.
Caspian Sea littoral states consist of Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. However, they have been debating their share of the water’s shipping and oil and gas reserves since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Here again, while the Soviet-Iranian treaties of 1921 and 1940 gave an equal share of the water rights to each country, with the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States after the collapse of Communism, Iran has been fighting with the Moscow-led group of nations to get its rightful share, reduced to less than 11%.
The unsettled dispute over demarcation of the oil and gas rich basin of the Sea has led to serious controversies between Russia and Iran, as Moscow refuses to acknowledge Iran’s navigation rights.
If this brief but dreadful history of Russia’s abuse of Iranian rights over many decades were not enough, in his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in September last year, the new President of the Islamic republic Hassan Rouhani called for stronger political and commercial ties between the two countries, describing the current level of bilateral relations as “insufficient”.
Along with the devastating economic, social and political damages of the current nuclear crisis that the despotic religious rulers of Iran have inflicted on the country, with the direct aid of the Russian and Chinese oligarchs, the freedom movement of the Iranian people has gone through many ups and downs in recent years. However, all signs indicate that the movement will inevitably rise up again in the not too distant future.
Then Moscow will have to sit back and watch the emergence of another “Ukrainian revolution” on its southern border, against a tyrannical regime that would wish to turn Iran into its satellite state.
Dr. Behrooz Behbudi
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