Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) talk each other ahead of an agreement signing ceremony following Russian-Iranian talks at the Moscow Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia on March 28, 2017
Iranian President’s visit to Moscow at the beginning of the (Iranian) New Year can be seen as the resultant expansion of cooperation between the two countries in the last three years. Over the past three years, the process of economic and political cooperation between the two countries in various fields has experienced a significant rise, and has practically made the two countries inevitable partners for each other. In addition to the issue of Syria that has turned the strategic cooperation between the two countries at the regional level into one of the pillars of determining the regional balance of power, the expansion of economic cooperation between the two countries has been also very impressive in the post-sanctions period. The volume of economic relations between Iran and Russia in 2016 reached more than two billion dollars, while it was less than one billion and 600 million dollars in 2013.
Undoubtedly, President Rouhani’s visit can highly contribute to accelerating the economic cooperation between the two countries –which are in turn very important–, but more importantly, this visit marks the zenith of the needs of the two countries to enhance political consultations. Iran and Russia in recent years, despite their tendency and intentionally or unintentionally, have found more importance for each other, and at times the actions of the two countries at the international or regional levels have had significant consequences for the other country. The Syrian issue is probably the most important symbol of this situation, but there are many other issues besides this that require the mutual interaction of Iran and Russia. On issues like the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the energy market, the issue of Afghanistan and even the issue of developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus, any inconsistent or incompatible action from Iran or Russia can make the situation more difficult for the other party.
Earlier, on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, a Russia inconsistent with the West –and not necessarily opposed to the West– significantly increased Iran’s maneuverability in the tough and complex nuclear negotiations. During the post-JCPOA, Russia’s positions on claims occasionally raised by the Western countries on the violation of the JCPOA by Iran are also very important. Russia not only can act as an important barrier against the West undesired actions or claims against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but also can, through maintaining a friendly relationship between the two countries, pave the way for advancing Iranian regional policy. All these require a sustained and high-level consultation with Russia. Iranian President’s visit to Russia, if there is no other concrete result, can at least serve as a reminder for the growing importance of the two countries in each others’ foreign policy.
In the current global conditions, the expansion of economic relations is one of the best and most sustainable ways to ensure friendly relations. Although the level of economic cooperation between Iran and Russia, in comparison with other economic partners of the two countries, is not significant, there are considerable untapped potential in both countries for cooperation. Russia is a country whose capabilities are unique in terms of mineral resources and industrial capacities, particularly in the field of heavy industry, aerospace, biotechnology and in some other areas. If these capabilities are well recognized, and necessary interactions are made, they can play a significant role in enhancing the capabilities of Iran.
Regarding the energy sector, after the nuclear deal (the JCPOA) was signed, and sanctions on Iran were removed, the possibility was raised that Iran and Russia could become rivals in the global energy market, but the two countries have tried in the last year to expand their cooperation in the field. Large Russian energy companies are currently involved in several projects in Iran, and it is expected that the cooperation will extend to various fields, including cooperation in determining the price of oil. Russia has significant capacity and capability in the oil and gas exploration and extraction, and there are also areas for energy transit between the two countries.
As seen in the content of negotiations and agreements between the Presidents of the two countries at the recent meeting, they are seeking to strengthen their political ties with economic ties. Large projects such as cooperation in the establishment of new plants, thermal and nuclear, the purchase and construction of freight cars, the purchase of aircraft and helicopters, and, above all, an attempt to expand cooperation in the field of transit between Iran and Russia with the participation of countries such as Azerbaijan, and to reach the preferential trade agreement with the Eurasian Union can bring Iran and Russia’s relations to a reliable level.
Mahmoud Shoori, head of Eurasia Program at Center for Strategic Research (CSR), is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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