A Russo-Iranian Bloc against the United States?

(By Juan Cole)

Russian President Vladimir Putin called his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, according to PressTV.


The Russian press added that “A Kremlin statement said Putin had underlined to Rouhani that any solution to the Ukrainian crisis must take into account the interests and the will of people in all of the former Soviet state’s regions.”

PressTV reported that Putin also said, ““Bilateral cooperation between Iran and Russia should advance quickly and I do my best to expand economic cooperation between the two countries.”

Since Iran is under financial blockade by the United States, increases in bilateral trade with Russia would be very welcome. The Obama administration has threatened to do to Russia what it has done to Iran, so it is in Russia’s interest to explore sanctions-busting opportunities, and trade with Iran (though it won’t be all that significant) is one such.

Another area of cooperation between the two is that Russia built three nuclear reactors for Iran at Bushehr, and is rumored to be considering constructing two more.

Putin also referred to Iran’s observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Council (which links Russia, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) and spoke of the need to implement the decisions taken recently at Bishkek by the SCC. Iran wants to become a full member of this trading and political bloc, in a bid to escape the isolation imposed on it by the United States.

Putin seemed to promise Iran help with reaching a successful agreement with the UN Security Council members plus Germany regarding its civilian nuclear enrichment program, which Iran maintains is peaceful. He said, “We do our best so that Iran’s nuclear issue reaches the final result.” If the P5 +1 can agree on inspections and other procedures to satisfy them that Iran is keeping it peaceful, an international agreement could be reached that would lead to substantial softening of sanctions.

Putin’s call to Rouhani contained little that was new. But it does seem to have involved the trading of some horses and assurances to Tehran by Moscow of mutual help in the face of US hostility to both.

According to BBC Monitoring for March 13, the conservative newspaper Resalat weighed in

[The] Resalat [conservative]: “With the mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine, observations show that this tension is rapidly evolving into a conflict between the USA and its allies with Russia. To compensate for what US allies consider as passive policy in Syria, [US President Barack] Obama reacted quickly but immaturely against Russia’s response… Of course, the USA should know that a strong Russia cannot accept the Western or American influence in neighbouring Ukraine… Aside from the tensions between Russia and the West, the situation might evolve in a way to leave its effects on Iran’s foreign policy as well. It can be concluded that a rise in differences between Russia and the West and their conflict of interest can make the next winter colder for Europe because Europe knows that it will face fuel supply sanctions if it imposes sanctions against Russia… It can be concluded that with a new crisis in place, Iran will no longer be the priority of Western pressure. In addition, threatening Russia with unattainable sanctions will disrupt sanctions regime against Iran.” (Editorial by Amir Mohebiyan headlined: “Ukrainian crisis and Iran’s interests”) (http://tinyurl.com/ldcfbkx)

The likelihood is that Putin is trying to round up support for his military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea and his plans to annex that peninsula to Russia. There are lots of ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ kinds of deals that Putin could strike with Iran.

14 Responses

  1. I emailed the White House encouraging the President to not be swayed by the same neocons who lied us into invading Iraq when it comes to dealing with Iran. You can read the neocon friendly response here.

    The White House, Washington

    Thank you for writing. I have heard from many Americans about our diplomatic discussions with Iran, and I am glad you took the time to share your thoughts.

    Since I took office, I have made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. My strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully—which is why we have extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my Administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council, and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.

    These sanctions have had a substantial impact on the Iranian economy. Coupled with the election of a new Iranian president last year, they helped create an opening for diplomacy.

    In November 2013, we reached an arrangement with Iran that halted the progress of its nuclear program—and rolled it back in key respects—for the first time in a decade. With this first step, there are now limitations in place that cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a nuclear weapon in the near term. Ongoing inspections are helping the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building one. And with our allies and partners, we are engaged in negotiations on a long-term, comprehensive solution to peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. But for the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize this chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

    Thank you, again, for writing. To stay up to date on America’s negotiations with Iran, visit link to WhiteHouse.gov.


    Barack Obama

    My next letter will ask the president to impose sanctions on Israel should Netanyahu continue to impose apartheid like conditions on the Palestinians. I’ll post that response. It should be a keeper.

    • To dsmith, the President has explained very well, his intentions regarding a peaceful agreement with Iran, and it is impressive, unlike the previous White House administration, he intends resolving this serious problem initially with diplomatic negotiations, and not shock and awe tactics. I sincerely hope for all our sakes, and the Iranian people, we can resolve this in a civilized manner.

      I will look forward to the response to your next letter, which will be very interesting, and I thank you for writing and asking for sanctions on Israel, who has always got away with human rights violations, illegal settlements, and a military occupation, that had it been any other rogue state, we would have sanctioned and boycotted long time ago.

      • McCain would never have had ANY kind of diplomatic talks, or made an effort to settle this first by trying to get to an agreement with Iran. Didn’t McCain joke about bomb, bomb Iran?
        I do not agree with many of Obama’s policies, especially the one he seems to be okay with, the dreadful drones.

  2. Dear Professor,
    The letter signed under the President’s name appears obviously to have been drafted & sent by the White House Staff. I sincerely wish the US president to free himself from the clutches of the existing staff who like in any other office , become prisoners of their past cliches & lines, and do some out of box thinking (of course, let me tell you for a second I would not want to be in his shoes, with crises after crises). Cool, you have stopped the Nuclear Arsenal of Iran who never had it in the first place nor intended to have one. What about Russia? They have hundreds of Nukes, perhaps trained on the US. Mr Putin has bent over backwards to accommodate the US, Can the US not give a thought to their genuine Defense needs of their Black Sea Fleets? Crimea & Ukraine are Russia’s backyards, they have every right to be concerned with what goes on there. Help them and help Mr Putin! The arrogance born out of stupidity of the likes of Dick Cheney and … Sarah Palin recommending to nuke Russia helps none, except expedite the sad demise of a great country!

  3. This has been an idea of Russian state leaders for a long time Juan. Wikipedia ” The Foundation of a Geopolitics” a book still used in foreign policy academies there. It is chilling for any who wish to see the spread of liberal democracy.

  4. If the Russians want to really cock a snoot at Uncle Sam becoming a big buttinski over the Crimea (ANOTHER in a long list of places “vital to US interests” all of a sudden that 99% of Americans couldn’t find on a map) then they ought to move full steam ahead on delivering and deploying that snappy new air defense system they’ve sold to the Iranians but not fully supplied. And beef it up. Make both the Americans and the Israelis cry foul.

  5. Rouhani, Zarif, and the political faction who have gained from the 2013 presidential election have invested a lot in their plan for rapprochement with the U.S. This policy has already started to bear some economic fruits and is one of the pillars for their intentions to embark upon certain domestic reforms, particularly economic ones. From the Iranian side, the most probable pressure that would halt the policy is if Khamenei turned against it and opposed it. However, he hasn’t done that as yet.

    Putin has created problems for himself with his military intervention into Crimea and potentially other parts of Ukraine. A Putin made more desperate by isolation is unlikely to be a Putin who can or will make extreme demands in terms of forcing other countries who want to work with Russia to accept his actions in Ukraine or other conflicts. This means that many countries may take a page out of Putin’s book and pocket whatever he offers without actually endorsing or supporting his invasion of Ukraine.

    It will not just be Moscow but also Washington that will be seeking to win favor from other countries. The U.S. will seek to detach countries from Moscow’s orbit or from backing its more controversial policies.

    For some countries, a bidding war could ensue between the U.S. and Putin.

    In fact, this scenario bears at least some similarities to what led to the détente between the U.S. and China in the advanced stages of the Cold War. Several defining variables remain undetermined as yet about whether the nuclear and other negotiations involving Iran will follow a similar trajectory, but there are some parallels. Both the U.S. and the Chinese leadership saw value in turning a new page on relations, a fact which actually gave both enhanced leverage over world events, as the Soviet Union was one of the main beneficiaries of the lack of relations between the two countries. .

    Then there also is the schism within the GCC. Oman has already attempted to facilitate relations with Iran. Qatar, too, cold potentially choose to bid defiance of Saudi Arabia and the UAE while simultaneously trying to woo the West by advancing the nuclear negotiations.

  6. Iran would welcome Russian economic and political cooperation, but it isn’t likely that the calculations that are driving the thaw with the West will be fundamentally stopped or derailed by the Crimean problem. It is possible to extract benefits from working with Russia without putting too many eggs in its risky and uncertain basket.

  7. Can we assume that continual banging upon the Russian borders, and their neighbors is a liberal approach? Or are we after some gas or oil? Or a pipeline route? Might that be liberal democracy’s approach?

  8. The real issue for Russia is Chinese government opinion. I haven’t heard a single comment from China.

    When you’re playing Great Power politics, it’s important to keep track of *all* the Great Powers. Russia has nothing to fear from the US or the EU right now. However, as Putin acts ludicrous and destablizing, he should (but won’t) watch for the Chinese reaction.

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