Iran - Russia: Maintaining Bilateral Relations

After the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president in 2012, relations between Tehran and Moscow improved considerably as a result of international and regional changes. Despite the fact that economic cooperation has always been a Gordian knot in relations between the two countries, ties between them have expanded in many other areas.

Relations between Iran and Russia are important not only because of bilateral ties between the two countries, but also in view of international and regional developments. They attract the attention of many analysts and diplomats. However, Moscow's refusal to deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2011 provoked severe criticism and thus strained bilateral relations.

After the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president in 2012, relations between the two countries improved considerably as a result of international and regional changes. Despite the fact that economic cooperation has always been a Gordian knot in relations between the two countries, ties between them have expanded in many other areas.

The exchange of delegations between the two countries reached a highpoint of 170 delegations in just one year. Moreover, the two countries finally signed a number of very important agreements on economic, political and cultural cooperation.

Iranian and Russian foreign ministers, deputy foreign ministers and senior officials held various meetings, and discussed political and security issues. The most important was on bilateral cooperation in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister visited Moscow to participate in meetings on Afghanistan.

Cooperation between Iran and Russia on the crisis in Syria should be regarded as a major development. Saeed Jalili, Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, and his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev held talks on the Syrian crisis, and their meeting was followed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's trip to Iran. By expanding collaboration, Tehran and Moscow showed that they can play a major role in the Middle East and prevent America's unilateral approaches in the region. On the issue of Syria, it seems that Russia is satisfied with its cooperation with Iran as well as with its insistence on fundamental positions in the international arena.

Vladimir Kolokoltsev's trip to Iran in February 2013 was the first visit by a Russian Minister of the Interior since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It resulted in a security agreement between the two countries. The arrival of a high-ranking delegation from the State Duma, led by Nikolai Levichev, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma and Head of the Russia-Iran Parliamentary Friendship Group, was a sign of the positive parliamentary ties between Tehran and Moscow.

Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in charge of the defense industry, paid a visit to Iran in the last days of the Iranian calendar of the year 1391. His visit clearly showed that Russia has opened new doors to cooperation and relations with Iran. Moreover, the trip to Kyrgyzstan by Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi to attend the 11th prime ministers' meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and his talks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was another step to widening cooperation.

Environmental ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states signed a crucial agreement on the protection of the Caspian Sea.

Economic cooperation between the two countries has also expanded: various meetings between National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Zarubezhneft, the Russian state-owned oil corporation, economic cooperation between Iran and the Republic of Dagestan, a visit to Tehran by the Russian Minister of Healthcare to develop medical collaboration, an exhibition in Tehran of Russia's advanced technological achievements, an exhibition of Iranian producers in Astrakhan and finally the 10th meeting of Iran-Russia Joint Economic Commission in the presence of the Iranian Foreign Minister and the Russian Energy Minister. A memorandum of understanding signed by the Iran-Russia Joint Economic Commission includes 139 paragraphs and covers a vast area of bilateral cooperation.

Three agreements concerning standardization, cooperation between environmental departments of the two countries' universities and international transport companies were also signed. One of the paragraphs of the memorandum is devoted to cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in building new nuclear plants in Iran.

After the launch of the Tabriz-AzarShahr electric rail system, talks were held to electrify the Gorgan-Garmsar railway and the two sides have also reached an agreement on cooperation to electrify the Tehran-Mashhad railway.

In oil and energy sectors, despite ongoing negotiations and frequent visits to Moscow by the head of the Iranian National Oil Company, Tehran and Moscow have been unable to reach an agreement. However, the deputy ministers of energy and petroleum of the two countries have worked out a clear roadmap for future cooperation in this field.

Iran's Minister of Labor, Cooperative and Social Welfare also paid a fruitful visit to Russia in January. Cooperation between Iran and Russia has not been limited to politics, security and the economy. The mutual visits of the two countries' ministers of culture have had positive outcomes: a cultural cooperation agreement between Tehran and Moscow and the organization of the Iranian cultural week in Russia. Next year in the Iranian calendar Iran will host a Russian cultural week as well.

It is amazing that the aforementioned talks and agreements took place during the last three months of the Iranian calendar. No doubt, despite the cold winter in Iran and Russia, both countries enjoyed warm relations.

However, compared to political relations between the two countries, the volume of trade between them highlights a bitter reality. According to published data, trade turnover between Russia and Turkey is 40 billion dollars a year, while between Russia and China it is 100 billion dollars. The volume of trade between Iran and Turkey stands at 20 billion dollars, and with China is close to 40 billion dollars. The trade volume between Iran and Russia was barely 3 billion dollars.

Unfortunately, during the last Iranian year the total volume of trade has dramatically decreased. According to statistics, it has fallen by 40% to about 2 billion dollars.

International sanctions and the banking embargo imposed against Iran are considered to be the most important factors affecting the declining trade exchange between Iran and Russia.

Studies show that very little has been done to solve two major regional issues — the idea of the creation of a Gas OPEC and the construction of the North-South Corridor. This shows that additional steps must be taken in the future.

A general review of relations between Iran and Russia during the last year of Iranian calendar will show that Iran and Russia continued their usual cooperation in the international arena. The Russians have recognized Iran's major role in the region and their strong attempt to resist meddling by the United States in the Middle East and Eurasia. The outstanding development and changes in their regional relations with Iran have resulted in fruitful and warm bilateral ties.

Implementing practical strategies to untie the Gordian knot of bilateral trade and further the development of cooperation in order to reduce the pressure of international sanctions on economic interactions between Tehran and Moscow are undeniable factors to maintaining bilateral relations between Iran and Russia over the coming years.

This essay was written at the end of Iranian Calendar year, 1391 (March 20, 2012-March 20, 2013).

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.