The Iran-Russia Relations The Iran-Russia Relations
On July 23, 2012, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS), hosted Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi, Iran’s Ambassador to Russia, for a seminar. The IMESS resident and visiting fellows as well as a number of Ph.D. and postgraduate students from different universities in Tehran attended the session.

A seminar with Ambassador Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi
July 24, 2012

On July 23, 2012, the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS), hosted Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi, Iran’s Ambassador to Russia, for a seminar. The IMESS resident and visiting fellows as well as a number of Ph.D. and postgraduate students from different universities in Tehran attended the session. Ambassador Sajjadi, in his presentation, highlighted Russia’s position in Iran’s foreign policy, Russia’s foreign policy in the Middle East as well as the outlook of Russia-US relations in Vladimir Putin’s terms. In the beginning of the session, Dr. Kayhan Barzegar, Director of the IMESS focused on the existing pessimistic and optimistic views of Iran’s foreign policy towards Russia. On the issue of the Syrian crisis, he talked about the internal dynamics in Syria, which bear an influence on the present crisis, emphasizing the significance of adopting “the policy of containing the West’s influence” as a driving force in Iran and Russia’s policies towards the for-mentioned crisis. Then, Ambassador Sajjadi pointed out the differences between the West and Russia’s policy toward Iran’s nuclear program.  He mentioned the presence of Israel and Western influential lobbies in Russia, aiming at boosting the theme of Iranophobia and Islamophobia. Later, Ambassador Sajjadi talked about Iran and Russia’s stance in regional issues. Here he asserted that the main problem avoiding Russia’s boosting ties with Iran is the international pressures enforced by the U.S., EU, Israel and some Arab states. Finally, on the future of U.S.-Russia relations, he maintained that President Putin is trying to balance the relations between the East and the West and that he also wants the West to change its previous behaviors in dealing with Russia. At the end, Ambassador Sajjadi answered arising questions.

Kayhan Barzegar: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the IMESS. First of all I would like to thank you all for coming to the Institute during summer as well as the holy month of Ramadan. As you know, Mr. Ambassador, alongside his diplomatic work has been very active in research programs and has given numerous interviews to both domestic and international media. He specializes in the field of techno-engineering and is particularly experienced on executive programs related to energy technology and developmental and strategic management. Before the session, the Ambassador and I agreed that for the sake of making most of the time, as best as possible, we are to go ahead with a kind of mutual conversation in the form of questions and answers. In this respect, the context of today’s session will be a little bit different. We will first start discussing   mutual relations between Iran and Russia and Russia’s place in Iran’s foreign policy, emphasizing on its role and significance in the nuclear talks. Then we will focus on regional issues and talk about Russia’s position in the Syrian crisis. Presently, the main topic of discussion in Iran’s academic circles is the level of Russia’s support of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the future of this crisis. Many believe that the Russians’ support is temporarily and that it will stop somewhere. In contrast, many believe that Russia will support Syria to the end. Finally, we will talk over the Russia-US relations in the context of international and regional politics. There is no doubt that their relations will have an impact on the Iran-Russia relations. 

Ambassador Sajjadi in one of his interviews maintained that “a powerful Iran is good for Russia and vice versa … a strong Iran will secure Russia’s southern borders.” We know that there are two perspectives among the Iranians towards Russia. One is pessimistic maintaining that Russia is an interest-oriented player. Another view is optimistic considering Russia as an important country with a long history and good background in civilization, music, technology, etc and that there is not much difference between Russia and the Western players. The point is that perhaps we don’t have an up to date view on Russia’s significance in the two sides’ relations, as well as world and regional politics. Therefore, today’s session will give us a great opportunity to benefit from Ambassador Sajjadi’s direct observations of Russia. I would like to thank you Mr. Ambassador for sharing your knowledge and experience of Russia with us. So let’s start today’s session. I would like to start with Iran’s nuclear talks.

Kayhan Barzegar: Many analysts believe that the West doesn’t want to give Russia a chance to raise its initiatives in order to solve Iran’s nuclear standoff. As we saw in the last round of the nuclear talks in Moscow, which was not that successful. Mr. Ambassador, what is your view on this?

Ambassador Sajjadi: I think Russia’s stance in Iran’s nuclear program is not fully realized. I think that the West clearly knows that Iran isn’t pursuing a nuclear military program. The technological stance of the program as well as its national pride is much more important for us. We don’t want to let the West use its double standards. So we see that the West wants to prolong the nuclear talks and also use sanctions as a threat in order to pressure us. This is while, Russia doesn’t have this perception. Due to its proximity against Iran influenced by the West’s and Israel’s propaganda against Iran and its nuclear program, Russia is extremely concerned about its security. Before I went to Moscow, during through my research in Iran, I didn’t realize these contrasting views. Overall, the West doesn’t want to find a solution to Iran’s nuclear program through Russia. There are two reasons for this; first, they don’t want an end to the nuclear issue. They just want to impose harder sanctions on Iran at this stage. The second reason is that, for several reasons their red-line is to minimize the Iran-Russia cooperation. It is not acceptable for them for Russia to find a solution or formula to solve the nuclear stalemate. In this regard, we can mention the Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov’s “step by step” initiative which was not welcomed by the West.

Kayhan Barzegar: Russia’s interests in Iran’s nuclear program could be economic, technological or any interest related to nuclear geopolitical issues. What do you think about the priority and real interests of Russia in Iran’s nuclear program?

Ambassador Sajjadi: One of Russia’s long-term goals is to set nuclear power plants in different parts of the world. This will help Russia to be more active in those countries. In other words, Russia thinks that nuclear issues have a bright future with good markets and cannot be simply ignored. Secondly, as a country that has this hi-tech, Russia can invest in many countries. Through this, it can have economic interests, along with a political-cultural presence in those countries. Right now, Russia has signed contracts for building nuclear power plants in different countries and in some countries they have started the constructions. For instance, in India, building the nuclear power plant is now at its final phase. Only some domestic problems in India, as well as people’s protests have delayed the inauguration. As a whole, Russia has a long-term strategy on developing nuclear energy. If Russia develops this process in Iran, in terms of technical assistances and fuel needs, Iran will come to rely on the support of Russia and this means a kind of “dependence”. For instance, in the old and the new nuclear power plants, in the field of engineering and spare parts, we will be dependent on Russia sometime in the future.  So you see that building nuclear power plants in different countries has huge political, cultural and economic values for Russia. For this reason, the Russians made Rosatom Nuclear Energy State Corporation, one of the strongest corporations. Right now, former Prime Minister Sergey Kiriyenko, who is very smart and also influential, is at the head of the Corporation with full authority for signing international agreements. We have to keep this in mind that Russia is still very sensitive about foreign agreements and the governments are closely monitoring any international agreements. But Rosatom has the carte blanche as it holds the nuclear-military programs. Previously, the Russian Ministry of Defense was running this program but now this company is responsible for all kind of nuclear activities. 

Kayhan Barzegar: Let’s turn the discussion onto another topic. How do Russian people and elites see Iran? It is important for us to know that what they think about us. For example, we don’t know whether the Americans elites are anti-Iranian in nature? Does Russia want to see an independent and strong Iran in the region and in the international arena? Or do the Russians see us as their rival in the region in terms of political, cultural and economical issues?

Ambassador Sajjadi:  The people and the elites of Russia say that when the Soviet Union disintegrated, almost 95% of them saw America as their survivor, rebuilding the country’s infrastructures. But today some 80% of them have anti-American sentiments. In the Russian presidential election, we saw that the pro-Western candidate Mikhail Prokhorov got only 8% of the votes, while the other four parties received a total of 92% of the votes. Overall, the Russians (80% of the population) have mostly a positive view towards Iran. However, there is huge propaganda raised by 70% of the Western media against Iran, but almost all of them (Russians) regard Iran as a brave nation with a rich history, great civilization and powerful leaders with strong stances against the West. Right now, the Russian leaders don’t have those anti-Western stances. Many of them belong to the Eurasianist trends which want an increased cooperation with the West, believing that Russia needs the West. We have to know that some 20% of Russians are pro-West. They think that cooperation with Iran and Syria is not fruitful and would also humiliate them, concluding that they are to get away from us and Syria. Generally, Russian people hold us in high regards, in spite of the fact that some 70% of Russian media helps spread propaganda against us, bearing biased positions.

Kayhan Barzegar: Once you said that the West tries to activate anti-Iranian and Israeli lobbies. What do you really mean? What is the story behind these lobbies? Does the West have enough potentiality to use anti-Iranian lobbies against the Iran-Russia relations? 

Ambassador Sajjadi: Well, this is my personal feeling. We see a strong outflow in Russia which tries to make scenarios on Iran’s negative role or some kind of religious extremism. We can see such a thing in Iran towards Russia too. We challenge the strong points of the relations with Russia inside Iran. The reason behind this could be that the Western intellectual circles and their intelligence services are aware of the commonalities between Iran and Russia in intellectual, morale and political matters. The self-reliance feeling is very strong among the two nations. Therefore, the Western and Israeli lobbies work under the theme of Iranophobia and Islamophobia in Russia. They have good support from the media and money. We should know that large amounts of money are in the hands of the Israeli lobby in Russia. The main goal of these lobbies is to minimize strategic cooperation between Iran and Russia, consequently paving the way for the West to enhance its influence in the Caucasus region, Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and Afghanistan.

Kayhan Barzegar: So this lobby is present in the Russian media?

Ambassador Sajjadi:  Definitely. The amount of money that Western and Israeli lobbies have is as much as the media. Russia has around 3000 media outlets, over 70% of which are run by our foes. The interesting point is that these media are also against President Putin. They say that President Putin’s authority is in a way that it can curb the situation, which is not true. For example, Radio-e-Pejvak, which is very popular in Moscow and has almost 5 million listeners, in its primetime, harshly criticizes Putin’s policies towards Syria and his cooperation with Iran. As you see, we don’t have good support among Russian media and nothing good has yet been done inside Iran nor Russia to counter this problem. 

Kayhan Barzegar: Now I think we can go to next part of the discussion. I wish to highlight two important matters at the regional level. First, the Russian interests in the Middle East. Many believe that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Middle East is no longer a strategic region for Russia. The second issue is Russia’s stance towards the Syrian crisis. Generally, we have two perspectives in this matter. The first one says that Russia’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime will have its own limits. Russia is an international player and based on the United Nations Security Council framework is obliged to protect peace and security in the world; therefore, it has to do more in human rights violation and containing civil war in Syria. So maybe in the future Russia is going to stop supporting Assad’s regime. But many, who have the second view in mind, believe that the Russians are to stick to their own principles and will support the Syrian regime to the final end. What is your view about these two perspectives? First, what is the scope of Russia’s policies and interests in the Middle East, especially with Putin at office again? And what are the interests and the policies of Russia in Syria?

Ambassador Sajjadi: I want to have a flashback, before I attempt to answer these questions. In Putin’s second term in office, the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, when the Russian diplomats were escaping from there to Syria, the U.S. targeted the Russian diplomatic vehicles injuring some of the diplomats. At this time, Russia was not at its best position in the regional and international politics and the West didn’t pay much attention to them. When Dmitry Medvedev took the helm, he tried to work with the West. The Russians approval of the U.S. intervention in Libya is a good example. But we shouldn’t forget that in the case of Libya, the West deluded Russia. But now, Putin, who is very strong, is running the country. He wants his country to play a more active role in international politics. If Putin won’t be active in the Syrian crisis, this means that the West can do what it wants as it did to Iraq and Libya. I am sure that democracy is not an issue for them in Syria. In the beginning, they thought that Syrian uprising were like the Egyptian one. But based on intelligence reports Russia realized that rather, the West is seeking a regime change policy in Syria and not one that is dealing with social uprisings based on political reforms. In my view, this announcement of weakness is the main issue for Putin, that is, apart from Russia’s interests in the Middle East and is the most prominent issue.

The second issue is that, Russia sees Syria as its last base in the Middle East. Moreover, Syria is an old friend of Russia. Russia and Syria’s Ba’ath party have traditionally had good relations.  Also there are good cooperation and friendships among their academic and intellectual circles. This, once again, shows that the two countries are allies. The Syrian port of Tartous is of utmost importance to Russia. After their strife with Ukraine, Russia regarded it as the only point of access open to them in the region. The Russian analysts say that the Syrian crisis has the potential to wrench Central Asia and the Caucasus regions from the Russian sphere of influence. Moreover, Russia is afraid of Salafi activities in the region. I think their resistance towards the West has two reasons. The first one is related to the importance of this crisis in terms of security, strategic and geopolitical matters. Russia believes that Bashar al-Assad’s fall will challenge them in many ways. The second reason is the existing mistrust between Russia and the West given the costs that the Libyan case brought about for Russia in the region. 

Kayhan Barzegar:  So as I understand it, this is related to “containing the West and limiting its influence in the region” rather than issues such as the international laws, sovereignty, humans security and alike. Russians say that they fight based on their principles, a claim which is subject to debate of course. One can argue that Russia’s intervention is based on keeping the existing balance of power, restraining the West’s influence and preventing the negative consequences of this process, which may affect Russia. Recently, I read an article which wants to know why Syria’s security is so important. The author argues that Syria is before Iran and Iran is connected to the Caucasus region. A lack of security in the Middle East will challenge the whole Caucasus region, where the Russia’s national security will be badly affected. Do you agree with this analysis? We would like to know which is of more important to Russia; the international norms or the containment policy?

Ambassador Sajjadi: Well, I somehow agree with this containment policy. We know that in the international arena there is no principle for greater powers. If Russia talks about the principles, it’s because it doesn’t have America’s current power, today. In the international arena, power has the final saying. Power can make  right, wrong and vice versa. Generally, as I said, when Assad’s regime falls, Russia will lose in many different ways. In fact, for Russia, Syria presents a highly important national security and defense aspect. 

Kayhan Barzegar: Here, I should mention that in his interviews, Mr. Ambassador has continuously supported the Kofi Annan peace plan for Syria as a middle solution for the crisis and in the context of regional cooperation engaging all parties involved. In your opinion, how can Iran and Russia’s interests converge in the Syrian crisis? Some, here in Iran, think that Iran and Russia don’t have any mutual regional interests. What are Iran and Russia’s interests in the regional issues?

Ambassador Sajjadi: I think that one of the West’s concerns is that it thinks Iran and Russia have common interests and threats in the region. It is somehow interesting that there are no other two countries in the world which have the same interests and threats. The areas in which we have common threats and interests are: Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Caucasus regions, energy, the issue of Russian disintegration, containing Israel’s strong presence in the region and weakening the Muslim’s status in Russia, the Caspian Sea region, battling the Salafi and Wahhabi activities in the Caucasus region, Iraq, Palestine and the Syrian crisis. 

In Afghanistan, in three areas of drug smuggling, battling the extremists and the US’s long-term presence, the two countries have mutual interests. The second common issue is Central Asia and the Caucasus regions. Setting up NATO or U.S. bases in these regions is a concern for both countries. The third is related to the field of energy. Of great concern to us, is the fact that if Turkmenistan’s gas and Kazakhstan’s oil reaches the European markets via the Caspian Sea, bypassing our and the Russians' market, it can have adverse effects on our energy markets. Therefore, we are strongly against laying pipelines under the Caspian Sea, on the pretext that it has environmental consequences. The Russians and as well as us have common positions with regard to the disintegration of Russia, the strong presence of the Zionists and the weakening of Muslims’ status in Russia. The Caspian Sea and the presence of foreign forces is another mutual concern. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are the two countries in which the U.S. has a strong military and economy presence. Another common issue is the presence of the Wahhabi groups in the Caucasus region with the support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The bombings in the region have damaged Islam’s image. Both states are opposing these kinds of acts. Also in Iraq we have the same interests. We both regard the U.S. presence as a security threat. We have the same position regarding the issue of Palestine; I mean recognizing Palestine with Hamas and opposing the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Finally in the Syrian crisis, the two countries, in terms of keeping the Syrian regime and finding a peaceful solution to the crisis based on the real political and security issues in the region are in the same way. But Russia’s problem for cooperation with Iran is related to the opposition of four international trends, the U.S., the EU, Israel and some Arab regimes. These four international streams are constantly trying to create challenges against the expansion of Russia-Iran relations.

Kayhan Barzegar: You have mentioned good points. Regarding the international politics, I put forward two questions. First, I would like you to elaborate on the Russia-U.S. relations based on the U.S. missile defense shield. What is Iran’s place in this context? My second question is related to the Russia-US relations. When Obama became President, State Secretary, Hillary Clinton, talked about resetting the relations between the two countries. But we see that it is not only resetting but also worsening the ties. How do you see the future of the Russia-US relations? Also, I would like to know, why the Russians didn’t give us the S-300 missiles? Is there any relation with the Russia-US negotiations on missile defense cooperation and the issue of not delivering the S-300 missile systems?

Ambassador Sajjadi: There are two schools of thoughts in Russia: “Atlanticists” and “Eurasianists.” The first group, the Atlanticists, believe that Russia should follow the U.S. and the EU. The second group, the Eurasianists, has two categories. One of them, being ultra, thinks that the West is only after our energy sources and it doesn’t give us anything in return. So we shouldn’t start any cooperation with them. The second division of the Eurasianists says that we have no other option but to have relations and cooperation with the West, East and Latin America. President Putin is among them. Boris Yeltsin’s term was dominated by Atlanticists. I think during Medvedev’s presidential term, they tested moderate Eurasianists’ views. Dmitry Medvedev, former president and current prime minister wanted to grab the confidence of the West and cooperate with them so as to manage the world. For example, we can mention their nuclear cooperation. But in two issues we see that they get away from each other one of them is missile defense shield and the other one is Libya. In these two cases, the moderate Eurasianists came to this understanding that confidence building measures is not fruitful, because the West has its own policy and agenda. So, some Russians think that the time for confidence building measures is over. Generally speaking, Putin came to power at the time when the mistrust between the U.S. and Russia was at its peak, unsuccessful confidence-building had been experienced and “resetting” the ties between the two countries wasn’t working and he was being given an unfavorable treatment by the West and especially the U.S. It’s clear that with this background, Putin is not after cooperating with the U.S. I think he wants to correct the West’s wrong policies towards Russia and himself.

Also in the S-300 missile case, Russia didn’t give us the missile system because of the pressures of those four international trends I already mentioned and the fear of its interests being jeopardized. Russia also uses the S-300 missiles as leverage against the West and the U.S. As I understand from my hearings from the Russian power circles, the Russians agreed to not give the S-300 missiles to Iran on the condition that the Bushehr nuclear power plant or any area supposed to be covered by this system may not be attacked. We should also note that Russia pays the price in the world for it. Many arm dealers in the world could not trust Russia. This is a strategic mistake made by Medvedev. I think Russia belittled us and in contrast exaggerated the U.S. They thought that their interests lie in the non-performance of this agreement. 

Kayhan Barzegar: Now there is another question. If Russia sincerely wants to restrain the West’s influence in the Middle East, is it the right time? Since as we see in the Syrian Crisis, the West has gone too far? Is it therefore possible that Russia change the course and give Iran the S-300 missile systems?

Ambassador Sajjadi: I think if Russia comes to this understanding that in Putin’s term, the West will attack Iran they will give us the S-300 missile systems. It is crystal clear for the U.S. and the European countries and also for us that they cannot bear a militarily attack on us. It is only the domestic problems that can hurt Iran. The U.S. has been successful in every country that has been struggling with domestic problems. In Libya they won because the situation was 50-50 and the number of the oppositions was high. In Syria because of the good support the people give to their political regime, we see that the U.S. is far from reaching its goal. In Iran, they are not after a military attack. They know that in any attack, Iranians will unite to tackle the invaders. 

Kayhan Barzegar: So far, I have asked Ambassador Sajjadi my questions at three levels of analyses, mutual, regional and international. Now let’s go to the next part of today’s program which is to take the comments and questions from the audience.

Question: As you know, building the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant took some 12 years. What was the real reason behind this long time?

Ambassador Sajjadi: To answer this question, we have to consider three matters. First is the difference between the Russian and the Western technologies. In the beginning, as agreed, Russia was required to adapt its design and technology to the different systems and infrastructures used by the Germans in constructing the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. This took time. If Iran had asked them to build a new nuclear power plant, it would have been operational much sooner. The second issue is that, the Iranian officials were not firm on their decision for building a nuclear power plant. We signed an agreement with the Russians giving them a good amount of money, but many argued that was it really worth it? Even today we see such comments from the inside. The result of this matter was that we didn’t give them money at the proper time, and this is one of the issues which prolonged the building process of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. The third point concerned the effect of the sanctions upon launching the Plant. The launching of the plant coincided with the escalation of the sanctions and since most of them were supposed to be supplied from Western sources, there was a considerable delay. Also, I want to add the Russian misgivings which were the result of political changes in Moscow and the emanated disorders resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Many claim that Russia cannot be trusted, But we have to keep in mind that Germany received some 5 billion Deutsche Marks from us and didn’t do anything, abandoning the project without a good reason, being perceived as an unreliable partner. With four resolutions against us, Russia still completed the nuclear power plant. So how can we label them as unreliable? I think we could point our fingers towards the same trend which wants to ignite the misunderstandings between the two nations. This is the same in Russia too. As you know, the Esfahan Steel Company (Zob Ahan-e Esfahan) was not built by the West in the Shah’s era, but rather by the Soviet Union. I think that the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is as important for us as Esfahan Steel Company, which is considered as a mother industry in our country’s advancement process. 

Question: Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin for the third term might be regarded as returning to the Communist era for the intellectuals in Russia. We witnessed huge protests set up against the elections saying that it was rigged. So if the Russians are against Western policies, how can we define these protests?

Ambassador Sajjadi: Well, regarding the protests of the oppositions, Putin didn’t claim that he got all the votes--I mean 100 percent of the votes. Since he got only 54% of the votes, these protests as you mentioned are not strange. Yet the foreign media pretended that millions of people came to the streets. I was there at that time and saw that the numbers of protesters were not that much. Thanks to their techniques, when you see the picture in TV you well think that all the Russians are on the streets. According to the results of a survey conducted a couple of days ago, 53% considered Putin’s performance successful. In the Caucasus region and some Muslim-dominated parts of Russia, almost all of them support Putin. Therefore, we have to see these protests as a mean to pressurize the government so as to snatch points and weaken it, so as to not to make firm decisions.

Question: During the Syrian crisis, as you know, Assad’s dynasty rose from the Alawite minority, hardly included 10% of the population and on the other hand, the Syrian Free Army (SFA) was comprised by defected members of the military. This shows that the Syrian regime has greatly lost its legitimacy. Now what is Iran’s stance? In your view, up to where the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Syrian regime will go? Should Iran change its course? 

Ambassador Sajjadi: My answer would be who has held an election there? Why do you think that Bashar al-Assad doesn’t have legitimacy? Assad’s strong supporters are not just the Alawites. The Christians are his main supporters. They know that if these elements come to power, the situation for the Christians will be intolerable. In their statements, they say that Christians, Kurds and the Durūz have to leave Syria. Syrian Sunnis are afraid of the Salafists. The reason behind Assad’s not falling is that these acts of the oppositions are not greatly rooted in the public. 

Kayhan Barzegar: I would like to mention an issue regarding the Syrian crisis, previously mentioned by Ambassador Sajjadi and that is the issue of containing the rival actors in the region. As you know, many countries do many things for containing their enemies or rivals. For instance, the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq was to fight against Al-Qaeda terrorism, securing the U.S. national interests. In these wars, many Afghans and Iraqis lost their lives and the U.S. spent billions of dollars so as to fight terrorism, thereby, containing the threats. So in the Syrian crisis, irrespective of the internal dynamism of problems such as  human rights, fostering democracy, political reforms, social networks like Facebook, youth and other things like that, there is also a classic element and that is  the role of the traditional state actors in the region, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, U.S., Russia, China and etc. Here they come to the Syrian crisis based on rivalry and containment and enhancing their role and influence in the region. Players like Russia and Iran don’t want any change in the region’s balance of power and want to prevent other rival states from exercising their influence, which can threaten their national security. So you see that the internal dynamics of the power in these countries are not the most decisive factors in international politics. In my view, in the Syrian crisis, we focused too much on the internal dynamism to the extent that we forget the regional dynamics and the classic potentialities of the state players. It is worth mentioning that in the Syrian crisis, the U.S. has been very hasty, although this shows that it brought up lots of political supports but it is still assuming a reactive position. With the upcoming elections in the U.S., they don’t want to risk anything as the crisis is opting to bring about unpredictable consequences. Even, Turkey doesn’t want to pay the price for the Syrian crisis. Thus, in the Syrian crisis, there is a wide range of matters from containment policy to the deterrence and the internal dynamism. One should note that Iran and Russia are certainly having hard times in how to deal with the Syrian crisis so that their interests are to be secured. 

Question: We see that Russia sets up the oil price in cooperation with Saudi Arabia in order to win the European, Asian or even the Far East markets from Iran. These rivalries have harmed Russia and consequently pulled down the oil price. We expect that the two countries have the same stance regarding oil, but in practice, such a thing is not seen. I would like to know whether you, as Iran's ambassador in Russia, will try to make arrangements with Russia considering the pricing of oil or about markets for Iran’s energy.

Ambassador Sajjadi: Although I am positive about this news, I have to say that I disagree with the content of your question. Unfortunately many think that Russia is behind the fall of oil prices. Of course, the Arabs play a key role in this matter. Russia is after cooperation but cannot find the way. We see the issue of oil from just the economic perspective. That’s why we’ve never entered in strategic talks with Russia. We know that oil and gas issues have great political potentialities and many states use this as a political tool. We never make energy-based dialogues with Russia. However, one of the strategic issues for cooperation between Russia and Iran is the dialogues regarding energy and the related issues. At least we have to manage the price, distribution and the market.

Question: Right from the beginning, Russia knew that the S-300 missile system was a defense system which would fully secure Iran in the region, but that it would also change the balance of power in favor of Iran. I want to know whether Russia knew from the outset that it would be not delivering the S-300 missiles to Iran. Isn’t this to be considered as a bargaining card, which Russia plans to use to prevent the U.S. from exercising influence in Central Asia and to bring them to the negotiation table?

Ambassador Sajjadi: The history of this case cannot verify your point. I mentioned that Russia wants to play a role in the international arms market. This will help Russia financially and also will pave the way for them to have more political influence in other states. They held rounds of talks and sessions, did lots of tests and all of them confirm that they were determined to sell the S-300 missiles to Iran. The S-300 case dates back to 10-12 years ago. They are badly affected by not giving us the system because they have already produced the system for Iran. If they didn’t want to give it to us, they won’t build it. The missiles were ready and part of it was sent to Astrakhan harbor in order to be delivered to Iran in due time.

Question: Iranian naval commander, Captain Khordad Hakimi said that marine equipment like submarines and destroyers should be deployed to the Caspian Sea region. The strings of threats show that a war in the region is very high. Can we relate this comment to the issue of oil in the Caspian Sea? What is your take of the Caspian Sea’s politics?

Ambassador Sajjadi: Undoubtedly, the oil is one of the important issues and is dominated. Right now there are tensions between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and Iran for sharing the oil in the Caspian Sea. As you know, the Azerbaijanis set up an oil rig in the Caspian Sea and our fighter jets sent warnings to them. Recently, there were so many problems between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Oil in the Caspian Sea is very important. The other issue is the presence of foreign countries in the region to support Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. We have to know that regarding the Caspian Sea we are not just facing Russia. Another issue, which is presented badly in Iran, is that many ask why Russia does not give us our shared right of the Caspian Sea. In the southern part of the Caspian Sea we have problems with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Our opponent in the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is not just Russia. 

Question: Some want to put the Syrian crisis under the Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Based on this, Russia can veto any resolution under this chapter. The Syrian crisis can be presented in the General Assembly and based on the traditional “Alliance for Peace” resolution. Based on this analysis, to what extent do you think Russia will stand by Assad’s regime?

Ambassador Sajjadi: As I said, the issue of Syria is strategic for Russia. But I should say that if the U.S. attacks Syria, Russia doesn’t have many cards to play .

Question: With Putin’s return, we have seen that new policies are taken up by Russia toward Syria. Also, we see that Turkey is playing a key role in the Middle East developments and especially in the Syrian crisis. Do you think with the return of Putin, the role of Turkey will be minimized in the region? Or is the Middle East the battle ground for their foreign policy?

Ambassador Sajjadi: Before the presidential election in Russia, the economic ties between Russia and Turkey were growing rapidly. Previously their economic exchanges were around $3-4 billion but in five years time it reached $47 billion. Also, gas imports and exports have had a great figure in their economic relations. Even in the last joint commission session, they talked about $100 billion economic cooperation. But the chain of developments in recent years decreased the economic ties’ figures. In one of the clashes between Russian security forces and the Caucasus fighters one Turk was killed, it shows Turkey’s interference in the Caucasus developments. Generally, Russia sees Turkey as a country which is a NATO member and also a country which is fighting to play a greater role in the Islamic world. Based on these, they want to have good relations with them. But we saw that due to Turkey’s acts, Russia is discouraged in enhancing its ties with Turkey.

Kayhan Barzegar: The conclusion from this seminar is that Russia is a player which gains more importance every day in regional and global politics. This is not just because of Russia being an international player; rather it is because of its history, culture and the geo-strategic situation. This will further highlight the significance of Russia for our students, researchers and decision-makers working for Iran’s foreign policy. The Iran-Russia relations are not limited to Iran’s nuclear program. Issues such as dealing with regional crises, containing the West, energy security, battling terrorism and extremism and etc. are common on both sides’ relations. Therefore, Russian studies should be improved in Iran. We have to deepen our knowledge from Russia, as was rightly mentioned by Mr.  Ambassador.  In this regard, this seminar is the beginning of upcoming sessions to become more familiarized with Russia. I think that Ambassador Sadjjadi has done his task very well by being an excellent representative for our country in Russia. He has tried to enhance Iranian studies in Russia and at the same time present the real Russia to us. His presence in the IMESS was a great opportunity. Once again I thank him for visiting us. I also thank you all for your comments and questions.

Compiled by: Fahimeh Ghorbani and Alireza Nakhchi

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