Iran and Russia have had this opportunity to live along each other in an appropriate time and place during one of the most sensitive and complicated period of their history. If Russia had not existed, the Islamic Republic of Iran probably could have not played an independent role at the international and regional levels to the extent that being recognized as one of the most important regional powers, and alternatively, if Iran had not existed, probably the situation would have become more complicated for the Russian Federation in the post-Cold War era. In fact, during the years following the Cold War, a main reason for the West to pay attention to Russia has been the ability and willingness of this country to provide Iran with some strategic assistance. Regardless of the realization of such assistance, Russians have exploited this opportunity to bring the West to the negotiation table.
Although the two countries may not recognize the importance of each other in the process of their mutual enhancement of international status or underestimate it or even at some point deliberately ignore it, the fact is that both of them need each other in moving forward along their adopted path. During the past quarter of the century, a large part of the West's animosity which could have been directed towards Russia, was targeted towards Iran. During these years, the issue of "Iran" made the Westerners cautious in their efforts to contain Russia to prevent this country from aligning itself with the evolving front of protesters against the new orders which the Islamic Republic of Iran was its most important leader.
Westerners even made some concessions to Russians in this regard. Introducing Russia into industrialized countries or G-7 (which transformed into G-8) was one of the most important of these concessions. For many years, the issue of "Iran" was one of the most important issues which motivated Westerners and especially Americans to interact reluctantly with Russians in G-8 or bilateral sessions. Undoubtedly, before Iran's nuclear deal, the kind of Russia's behavior towards the issue of "Iran" was essential for the West. If Russia had completely advocated the West in exerting pressures against Iran, the situation for Iran could have become much harsher. On the contrary, if Russia had sold more strategic weapons to Iran or opened the room for transferring sensitive technologies to Iran or created more obstacles in the process of imposing harder sanctions on Iran in the framework of the Security Council, the West could have not controlled Iran to such an extent.
Eventually, despite all these ups and downs, it was Russia which constructed Bushehr nuclear power plant or sold some defensive weapons to Iran. Although the extent of such cooperation has been always less than what Iran has expected, it could enhance Iran's ability for resistance and role-playing. For this reason, Russia does not owe anything to Iran due to Iran's indirect assistance to the enhancement of Russia's status at the international level, because Iran, in turn, has exploited of obstacles created by Russia against the U.S. multilateralism. Perhaps, expectations are much higher, but the world of politics is more than anything the world of conflicting interests. What is important is that Iran-Russia relations before the nuclear deal, despite its ups and downs as well as obvious limitations, have entailed very important strategic interests and consequences for both countries.
It seems that the occurrence of some events concerning Iran and Russia has changed, to some extent, these conditions during the last two years. Following the tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the issue of "Iran" is not likely an appropriate issue for bargaining between Russia and the West. In fact, differences between Russia and the West over Ukraine are so deep that cooperation over the issue of "Iran" cannot fill the gap. Also, the success of long negotiations between Iran and 5+1 over the nuclear issue and likely relative amelioration of relations between Iran and the West following the removal of sanctions, would give Iran a larger room of maneuver to adopt a more balanced foreign policy. For this reason, an important question raised here is that whether Iran and Russia relations have lost their benefit for the two sides.
A clear answer to this question is that the new situation not only has diminished the importance of Iran and Russia relations for each other, but also has provided more favorable ground for cooperation. Following the nuclear deal, despite the expectation of the removal of some sanctions imposed on Iran, many doors are still closed to Iran by the West. Specifically, given the opposition of Westerners to strengthening Iran's defensive power, Russia is still considered the most important Iran's partner in this regard. In addition, the removal of legal obstacles for trade with Iran when the West has prolonged its sanctions against Russia, a new opportunity would be provided for expanding economic cooperation between Iran and Russia. During the past years, the lack of economic interdependence between Iran and Russia has been considered an important weakness in their bilateral relations.
At the political level, cooperation between Iran and Russia has even gained importance more than any time in the past. In Western Asia (the Middle East), cooperation between Iran and Russia over Syria has practically prevented the execution of designed agenda by some regional and Western powers for changing the existing balance of power. In recent years, although Americans speak about reducing their commitments in the Middle East and a strategic shift towards East Asia and Pacific zone, it denotes the U.S. defeat in the region as well as avoiding responsibility for the current situation in the Middle East. The most important result of this was more freedom of action for Saudis in the region leading, in turn, to increasing radicalism and sectarian conflicts. Under these circumstances, Iran and Russia as two countries with common threats, on the one hand, and equipped by necessary means to confront these threats, on the other hand, have no other choice but more coordination in this field.
Iran's capabilities for influencing regional trends in Western Asia along with diverse Russia's capabilities in the fields of defense and sensitive technologies suggest that both countries have much potential to cooperate with each other. These capabilities could have strategic value for the both sides.
Finally, Iran and Russia both try to reduce their dependency to the structures of the global economy and not allow that these structures to be manipulated by Western powers in line with their own interests. For this reason, major efforts should be carried out to provide more freedom of action for independent countries through expanding bilateral cooperation as well as strengthening some independent institutions like BRICS group.
Mahmoud Shoori, a lecturer at the University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at The IRAS Institute.