I visited an interesting talk on “Russian-Iranian Relations in the Ahmadinejad Era given by Mark Katz, Professor, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University.
I liked speaker’s bluntness, when he talked about various aspects of the Russian-Iranian relations, juxtoposing them to the US policies as well.
According to Mr Katz, Iranians have “love-hate” attitude towards the US. There are some things they hate the Americans for and there are other things in America that they admire. However, Iranians’ attitude towards Russians is one of “hate-hate” type.” He said, that Iranians regard the US as a superpower (and quite rightly so), but do not consider Russia as such and even treat them with contempt.
Russian-Iranian relationship is what one could call an uneasy mismatch. Iranians look at Russians as their equals in terms of political weight on international scene, they do not accept any superiority on Russians’ side, while Russians are offended by this very perception. Russia is regarded instrumental to achieve certain Iranian goals in order to challenge the US. Iran is an Islamic country, while Russia not only persecutes Muslems, but is rampantly xenophobic toward non-Russians, more so toward Muslems.
So Russia wants to play an intermediary between the West and Iran in order to boost its international significance, to make some money in arms trade, nuclear and conventional energy, etc., to use Iran as a tool in the trade offs with the West. Russia is not really afraid of Iran becoming a nuclear power, as it does not regard Iran more insane or unstable than, for example Pakistan. (In my opinion though, once Iran becomes a nuclear power, the previous Russia’s points lose their significance for Russia, so Russians ideally would like to have Iran indefinetly approaching the threshold of acquiring nuclear capability without actually getting it) Russians are very afraid of the possible deal between the US and Iran as then Russia’s international significance would dramatically be diminished and it will have nothing to reply to it with.
Iran wants Russia’s help in order to strengten its international positions against the West/US. However, Iran showed up willingness to cooperate in building alternative gas pipelines, sponsored by the West. Iran does not hesitate to diversify its international policies, as it really does not have to make politically difficult choice, say between the Russians and the Americans. In the Iranian perspective both are approximately equally bad, but the US is at least the world superpower, that have some unquestionable strengths about it.
It looks almost as an intentional choice on the US’ side to allow Russia to play an intermediary between the West and Iran and capitalise on that. I am puzzled what the purpose of this could be. Perhaps, the US’ reasoning is that it is better for the western world to depend on Russia in such matters as energy supplies and nuclear non-prolifiration, than on Iran? But this does not necessarily mean that Iran is not going to acquire nuclear capability. If the objective is to stop nuclears prolifiration, then it would be best to talk to Iran directly and get rid of Russian intermediary role (or significantly limit it), because Russia is the very side in the game that uses potential threat of nuclear Iran as leverage in its own agenda with the US/West.