Iran's media on Russia

Written for IMP by ASL19 researcher Reza Akhlaghi

Russia’s strategic goals in post-revolutionary Iran have vacillated in starkly different directions, moving between supporting Iraq in the devastating Iran-Iraq war, to selling billions of dollars in arms to Tehran in the 1990’s, to its present involvement in developing Iran’s nuclear program, while simultaneously refusing to sell Iran advanced air defense systems.

In the wake of the November 24th interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, there has been a barrage of analyses on the potential economic, geopolitical, and geostrategic implications for the greater Middle East how positions could be re-aligned with respect toward Iran as Tehran appears poised to emerge from years of regional and international isolation. In Iran, some analysts have turned their focus specifically to Russia’s objectives in the nuclear negotiations and Moscow’s long-term goals in Iran and the region.

The Iranian media are generally sympathetic toward Russia’s role in moving nuclear negotiations to fruition and efforts to prevent further sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Because of the sensitivity around Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s role as the only country involved in the development of the program, the Iranian press has acted cautiously in criticizing Russian-Iranian relations.

Recently, certain influential media outlets in Iran have been offering more critical analyses of Russia’s strategic goals in the region. In a January 21st editorial “How Russia Plays the Iranian Card,” Tabnak argues that the interim agreement will increase Iran’s chances of emerging from years of isolation and potentially make it an important destination for international investors, impacting Russia’s longstanding domination of the Iranian economy. In addition to developing Iran’s nuclear energy program, Russia is also deeply involved in Iran’s fields of hydrocarbon energy, agriculture, glass, plastics, and aviation. For example, much of Iran’s ageing passenger air fleet is Russian- made, due to economic sanctions that prevent the world’s two main manufacturers of passenger aircrafts, Boeing and Airbus, from supplying Iran.

Therefore, Russia hopes to consolidate its status in the Iranian market and protect its economic advantages as Iran becomes re-integrated into global trade. The piece also argues that it is important for Moscow to maintain good relations with Iran, given Tehran’s influence in the Caucuses and Central Asia, two strategic regions also known as Russia’s backyard.

Iranian Diplomacy, published by veteran diplomat and former Iranian ambassador to France and the United Nations Mohammad Sadegh Kharazi, included a piece entitled “Don’t Let Iran Drown in Russia’s Political and Economic Sphere,” on January 19th. The online journal warns of Russian efforts to keep Iran economically contained by keeping markets closed to Iranian products in the Caucuses and Central Asia, and that Russia will continue to hamper Iran’s efforts to develop and export its enormous natural gas reserves to the European markets, where Russia enjoys near monopoly status: “The Russians would like to continue their monopoly in the Iranian market and we should be careful not to sacrifice our relationship and economic interests with Europe and put all of our eggs in the Russian basket.”

With Iran’s diplomatic opening to the West and prospects of much-needed Western investment becoming stronger, Iranian foreign affairs analysts appear to have found a window of opportunity to educate the public and policy makers about what these analysts believe to be a futile de-facto alliance with Russia--one that does not seem to be serving Iran’s increasingly crucial political and energy-related interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The annual Davos World Economic Forum this week in Switzerland and expectations that Rouhani will launch new efforts to attract investment for Iran’s battered economy are certain to continue to heighten Russia’s attention toward developments in the Iranian economy.


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