Russia’s False Friendship with Iran

A few years ago, RA had a series of blog posts arguing that in terms of geopolitical interests, energy, and simple geography, Washington and Tehran could find that they have much more in common than the fiery and hostile diplomacy (or lack thereof) might dictate. Russia’s mild protection of Iran from sanctions in the UN represents not a true alliance or mutually rewarding friendship, but rather the maintenance of a “swing position” whereby Moscow can ensure that Iran and the United States continue to have poor relations, and especially prevent Iran’s natural gas sector from developing into a competing supplier to Gazprom (enormous amounts of foreign capital are required). Indeed, many policy analysts have explicitly identified the urgency of including Iranian supply in order to make the Nabucco pipeline a possibility (not that Dick Cheney understands this…). iran101308.jpg Photo: An Iranian police stands guard in front of a picture of Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (L) and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei next to the municipality of Tehran October 7, 2008. (Source: Reuters)

This tension between the United States and Iran, and how Russia benefits from it, is highlighted by some of the recent exchanges in the U.S. presidential election campaign between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. Namely, Obama has repeatedly emphasized how his administration would focus on engagement and lower-level talks with these governments without establishing pre-conditions, while McCain’s position has been to attack such open ended approaches as hopelessly naive and ineffective.Today, a column in the Wall Street Journal puts forward an argument that this blog agrees with: “For Russia, an isolated Iran in conflict with the West is a boon. With Iran’s rich gas reserves off limits, Russia can hold Europe hostage and divide NATO while also creating linkage between its support for international pressure on Iran and Western response to its aggression in the Caucasus. (…)During his recent visit to New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran was not happy with the carving up of Georgia and that the independence and territorial integrity of Georgia can be a principle that the U.S. and Iran could agree on. America can start talks with Iran as part of a regional dialogue on common security interests and the promise of energy exports. Only by engaging Iran will America draw a wedge between Moscow and Tehran and weaken Russia’s hand.