Image credit: Iran Review - Photo: 2013

The Importance of Iran-US-Russia Triangle

By Alireza Noori* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TEHRAN (IDN | Iran Review) – Although the idea of possible re-establishment of Iran’s relations with the United States is still at the stage of early speculations and does not seem to be realized even in the medium term, the mere mention of this issue has been followed by different analysis about the possibility of an Iran-U.S. détente and its outcomes. Among all other issues, relations between Tehran and Moscow will be certainly affected by such a development.

Therefore, due to “controversial” interactions between these two countries, especially in recent years, analyzing the quality of that effect is of special significance. The existing trends, including in Iran’s nuclear case, all point to the reality of the existence of a dynamic triangular interaction among Tehran, Moscow and Washington, according to which any change of relations between two sides of this triangle will be ensued with unequal consequences for the third side.

Of course, due to very clear reasons, the degree to which Iran is affected by political equations between Russia and the United States is higher. However, it cannot be denied that a change in Tehran’s relations with either of those two sides will leave its mark on the political developments in the region.

From this viewpoint, it seems to be important to assess the impact that a possible détente between Iran and the United States will have on Russia. As a first step, it should be noted that since “realism” governs the ideas and acts of the Russian leaders in the Kremlin, they see Moscow in constant rivalry and even confrontation with other powers, especially the United States. The main goal of that rivalry is to expand the geopolitical advantages of Russia in the peripheral geographical environment as well as at international level.

More emphasis has been put on this viewpoint in the wake of recent confrontations between Moscow and the West, especially over the situation in Syria and the deployment of the U.S. missile defence shield in Eastern Europe. From this angle, Russia attaches great importance to having Iran in the geopolitical and anti-West axis of the Middle East.

On the other hand, possible re-establishment of relations between Tehran and Washington will not be welcomed by Russia though it would not necessarily mean that Iran would become a regional ally of the U.S. Therefore, one may claim that under the existing circumstances, Russia is actually “opposed” to such development.

Some Iranian analysts who adhere to this perception have emphasized that Tehran should make the most of the new opportunity and while improving its relations with the West, stop Moscow’s bid for using Iran as a “trump card.” They assume that the losses that Russia is going to suffer as a result of Iran-U.S. détente will be “huge,” especially in terms of both geopolitics (such as weakening of the anti-West axis and higher permeability of Central Asia, Caucasus and the Caspian Sea regions to U.S. influence), and geo-economics (including the possibility of Iran’s presence in the European gas market). They have also pointed to the fact that in its longstanding rivalries with the West, especially in confrontations with the United States during recent years, Russia has been using Iran as a bargaining chip.

However, in spite of this viewpoint and through a more realistic approach to the Russian foreign policy and Iran’s position in it, one may claim that the negative impact on Russia of a possible turn in Iran’s relations with the West would be minimal. In dealing with this issue, we must first pay attention to the mixed discourse that governs the foreign policy of Russia. “Self-assistance” is very important in this discourse, as is the realistic principle of “balance of powers”. As a result, Moscow finally banks on its own “assets” and has “limited” trust in foreign means. This is why Moscow actually believes that Iran is of “limited” efficiency, including as a member of the anti-West axis, in helping Russia to meet its interests. This approach which sees foreign means of “limited” value in helping Russia is quite evident in Moscow’s foreign policy. As a result, the Russian leaders do not believe in an “extended” role for even such powerful political players as Iran and China, in their rivalry or confrontation with the West.

Russian Pragmatism

In addition to realism, a second element which should be also taken into consideration is the Russian pragmatism. The impact of this element has been quite evident on the relations among three sides of Iran-Russia-U.S. triangle, including in tactical fluctuations of Moscow between Tehran and Washington.

Within this framework, if diplomatic ties are really restored between Tehran and Washington, Russia would be still able to realize its interests through other channels and by using different tactics. In addition, the analysts can also accept that in case of détente between Iran and the United States, Moscow will be even able to maintain an optimized level of relations with Tehran. Such a situation has been experienced before. While Iran was an ally of the United States before its Islamic Revolution [in 1979], its relations with the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics continued in other forms.

A similar pattern can be seen in relations between Russia and Turkey. Despite extensive relations that Turkey has with the United States, Russia has been able to pursue its political interactions with Ankara and define related threats within the framework of its relations with Washington. Therefore, even from this viewpoint, a possible rapprochement between Iran and the United States cannot be necessarily taken as equal to Russia suffering “acute” losses.

Another important point, however, which is related to the Russian pragmatism, is the vacillating relations between Russia and the United States and its consequences for Iran. This reality shows that when making a decision about the option of “either Russia, or the United States,” firstly, the confrontation between these two power poles should not be considered permanent. On the contrary, there may come a period in which the two countries would have close relations. Secondly, as history has shown, Washington and Moscow have been both trying to shift the weight of their confrontation and rivalry to “third” points with regard to which Iran can be a good option.

One may, therefore, claim that a one-sided approach to the option of “either Russia, or the United States” can pave the way for Tehran to become such a point, which will lead to the continuation and repetition of the “experienced losses” of the past.

For this reason, maintaining a balanced level of relations with Moscow will be desirable for Iran and, at least, it would be more rational than adopting a hostile approach to this country, which will certainly entail costs for Iran. More importantly, however, is the adoption of a multifaceted approach and pursuit of balanced relations with the West and Russia, which while bringing balance to the Iranian foreign policy, will prevent the country from becoming a jockeying ground for their future rivalries and confrontations.

*Alireza Noori is an expert on Russia Affairs. This article, which was published on October 28 in Iran Review, is being is being reproduced by arrangement with them. [IDN-InDepthNews – October 30, 2013]

Picture credit: Iran Review

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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