Visit to Tehran

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Visit to Tehran 20.01.2017 11:37

December 11, 2016 Tehran hosted an international conference on security, "A regional security system in Western Asia" (under West Asia it is understood in Iran the Middle East in an expanded interpretation, including the South Caucasus and Central Asia), organized by Tehran International Studies and Research Institute). It was attended by about 300 participants, the vast majority - the representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

Of the foreign participants were presented the EU (Belgium, Italy, and France), China, Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco and other countries. I was the only Russian representative at the conference. Most likely, the Russian Embassy in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) did not participate in it.

The high level of representation at the conference was demonstrated by the fact that it opened, by Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Majlis (Iran's unicameral parliament, its official name - the Islamic Consultative Council). During the plenary session the reports were made by: Brigadier General Hossein Dehgan, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics of Iran; Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs; Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli, the interior minister and the head of Iran's National Security Council; Rear Admiral Ali Hamhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. Basically, their reports were of a general nature. At the same time, Mohammad Javad Zarif turned to the West, which does not go to real cooperation with Iran.

According to the information available there is a separation of functions in the Iranian leadership: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in charge of relations with the West, and Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser on international affairs of Iranian Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei - for relations with Russia and China. At this conference, Ali Akbar Velayati, was absent, indicating that the initiative of its conduct on the part of President Hassan Rouhani. In mid-May 2017 presidential elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran took place, in which Hassan Rouhani is going to participate. Probably this conference had something to do with this.

The high status of the conference is evidenced by the fact that it was held in Ghalam conference hall, located in the most prestigious area of north Tehran. This Conference Center has been specially built to host major international events within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

On the eve of the event secretary of the Tehran International Conference on Security Jalal Dekhani Firuzabadi said that security in the Middle East will be formed with the participation of the countries located in of the region, so there is a need in security issues discussion between senior representatives of the executive authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the academic (scientific) community.

He said: "Many people are trying to convince Iran seeks regional hegemony, while the image of the Islamic Republic represented does not correspond to current realities, and the Tehran International Conference on Security can fix this presentation and would have an impact on decision-making in the region". Jalal Dekhani named terrorism as one of the main causes of insecurity in the region, especially in West Asia.

Within the framework of the Tehran International Conference ten sections were carried out simultaneously on the following topics:

1) theoretical and conceptual principles of the regional security system;

2) the nature of the formation of a regional security system;

3) non-regional powers and regional security system;

4) regional powers and regional security system;

5) regional challenges and opportunities;

6) emerging issues and security in West Asia;

7) international political economy and the emerging regional security;

8) prospects  of regional security system in West Asia;

9) the Islamic Republic of Iran and the emerging regional security;

10) security architecture in West Asia.

As part of the last section, I made a report on "Security architecture of security in West Asia: a view from Moscow". In the report, it was noted that now there is a change in the global balance of forces. The role of the United States is gradually decreasing in the world that puts greater responsibility on regional powers to be more actively involved in the resolution of regional problems.

This is clearly evident in Syria, where the Americans do not now have a decisive role. In the future, the settlement of the Syrian crisis will largely depend on the interaction between Russia, Turkey and Iran, with the involvement of China and other foreign players in the process.

The presence of the US and its allies in Syria (with the exception of Turkey, which is a NATO member, but has a complicated relationship with the US) will be limited, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies. There is no doubt that Russia has come to the Middle East for a long time. This is evidenced, for example, the fact that in mid-October 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on ratification of agreement between Russia and Syria on the indefinite deployment on the territory of which the military base "Hmeymim" is located.

At the same time, according to the text of the document, all the Russian military bases and personnel will have diplomatic immunity. Now the issue is discussed on the establishment in Syria of Russian naval base in Tartus. This will allow Moscow to monitor the entire eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia is trying not to interfere in the Iraqi crisis, which largely has the character of Sunni-Shiite confrontation. It is possible that in the future this country will break up into several parts, and Moscow does not want to be on the side of a Shiite Iran or Sunni Saudi Arabia.

This also applies to Iraqi Kurdistan, which will likely not be able to become the nucleus of the "Great Kurdistan", including due to internal fragmentation (in particular, there a confrontation takes place between clans Barzani and Talabani, there is a serious lack of understanding between the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds) . But this does not exclude the strengthening of cooperation between Moscow and both Baghdad and Irbil, including in the military-technical sphere.

Another thing is Yemen. Historically, Russia had good relations with South Yemen. This was one reason why it did not support living in the north of the country Huthis. Besides, Moscow does not want to be dragged there in Iranian-Saudi confrontation. In such circumstances, it is the Russian Federation, which has a significant international prestige and good relations with all parties to the conflict (currently this is applied even to Saudi Arabia), Russia can act as a mediator to resolve the crisis in Yemen.

It deserves special consideration the situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban has significantly activated anti-government actions. So, in October 2016 they again briefly captured the city of Kunduz, the center of the same province in the north of the country. However, in late September peace agreement was signed between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Islamic Party of Afghanistan, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (the last one of the most serious warlords).

The current agreement allows him to not only return to the political scene of the country, but also to re-create his political party, as the main political force in Afghanistan. However, strengthening the position of the Pushtuns in Afghanistan may lead to enhancement of their confrontation with the Tajiks and other ethnic minorities (mainly Uzbeks and Hazaras).

While the Russian presence in Afghanistan is very limited, which has extremely difficult deterred such non-traditional threats and challenges such as terrorism, radical Islam and drug trafficking in relation to the strategically important for us states of the Central Asian states. Therefore, one should expect the Russian penetration in the country through enhanced economic cooperation, humanitarian aid and development in the field of culture contacts.

At the same time it will strengthen relationships with the local elite and the military-technical (limited military) cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan, for example by assisting in the restoration of the country's helicopter fleet. On the basis of this in the long term the settlement of the Afghan crisis will be possible on the basis of Russian-Chinese cooperation involving other foreign players, and on the non-bloc basis.

It is obvious that Russia is not a tool of the Chinese influence, and it has its own national interests. This is particularly important, for example in Afghanistan, where Pakistan is perceived by many people as a sponsor of terrorism. However, the level of Russian-Indian cooperation is significantly higher than the interaction between Moscow and Islamabad friendly to China. The Chinese-Russian cooperation in Afghanistan, taking into account the weakening of the role of the US and its allies will not cause there a substantial opposition from the Afghans.

Turning to Iran, it should be noted that Russia cannot be a substitute the West and in particular, the European states in the Middle East. It cannot be due to historical and cultural reasons, lack of modern technology and the lack of sufficient financial resources.

In this connection it is advisable for the Russian Federation to strengthen the cooperation in the military-political, financial and economic spheres with friendly states which are less influenced by Washington. Among them a special place is occupied by the Islamic Republic of Iran, with which Moscow is pursuing a policy of strategic dialogue.

It should be noted that at the end of January 2015 with the aim of strengthening of Russian-Iranian relations, the visit to Moscow, by Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor for international affairs Iranian Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei. Within the framework of this visit, a meeting of Ali Akbar Velayati with President Vladimir Putin was held, which allowed the Russian leader to convey a special message from the spiritual leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

This visit had laid the basis for a new agenda of the Russian-Iranian relations. In the economic sphere it is supposed to implement five major projects: the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, the creation of an energy bridge (power supply) through the territory of Azerbaijan, modernization of Iranian railways, as well as a significant expansion of cooperation in the field of natural gas and the supply of agricultural products production. By that Russia has reduced its losses from the financial and economic sanctions imposed by the West. Unfortunately, not all the plans were managed to be realized.

There is no doubt that the economy is the basis for sustainable development of bilateral relations. In this regard it should be noted that in the first quarter of 2016, Russia's trade with Iran amounted to $411 million, an increase of 23% compared to the same period of 2015 In this case, Russian exports to Iran in the first quarter of 2016 amounted to $304 million (up 26%), while imports - $107 million (18% growth).

However, Iran's share in Russia's foreign trade in the first quarter of 2016 amounted to only 0.4% versus 0.3% in the same period 2015 (43 place in the share of Russia's imports and 43 place - exports). Russian exports to Iran are presented by metallurgy products, paper, cardboard, military equipment and equipment for nuclear power plants, wharves and floating platforms.

For its part, Iran sells to Russia: fruits, pistachio, processed fruit and vegetable products, tobacco, mineral and some building materials. Russian-Iranian economic relations will improve after the creation of high quality western branch of international transport corridor "North - South".

An obstacle to the development of the Iranian-Russian relations is the lack of an established cooperation between the banking systems of the two countries (Iran's banks are still not connected to the SWIFT system) resulting in many important agreements are not valid. Another negative factor is the scarcity and sometimes false information that entrepreneurs receive about each other.

In addition, most of the political, cultural, economic and trade institutions in Iran are faced with the problem of shortage of specialists who speak Russian and familiar with Russian realities.

In such circumstances, military and political cooperation is extremely important, which can become a driving force for the expansion of economic and cultural cooperation. In particular this applies to regional security in the conditions of the ongoing crisis in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

 

The positions of Moscow and Tehran are very similar, in particular on the deterrence of the activity by the US, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. This allows our countries to begin to create new systems of regional security in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Caucasus. Their basic difference from other similar systems is that they are created on the non-bloc basis, and taking into account the interests of all states involved in this process.

A large number of factors should be considered when choosing the partner countries in the formation of new regional security systems. Moreover, these countries do not necessarily have to be friendly to Moscow or Tehran. It is more important for them to have a real impact on the resolution of problems in the sphere of regional security. For example, in Central Asia, the most likely partner is Kazakhstan. It is more difficult to make a choice in Afghanistan or Syria, where Moscow and Tehran may offer different parties for such systems. For example, in Afghanistan, Iran sees India as a partner, and Russia - China and Pakistan.

A similar situation is in Syria, where possible involvement in the peace process of Egypt will meet resistance from Tehran. The main reason for this is the fact that the Egyptian authorities are financially dependent on Riyadh, who heads the international coalition against Huthis in Yemen.

But in reality, Cairo will be involved in the Yemeni armed conflict only if there is a real threat to cut off the Bab-el-Mandeb strait connecting the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden Arabian Sea. This strait can deliver marine cargo, including oil tankers through the Suez Canal to Europe.

Especially it is necessary to consider the possibility of creating a new security system in the South Caucasus. Here, Russia and Iran have a rather difficult partner - Turkey. On the one hand, the Russian and Iranian governments are seeking to establish partnerships with Turkey in political and economic spheres. On the other hand between serious misunderstandings there remain between them on Syria, Yemen and Nagorno-Karabakh. In particular, the Turkish troops currently occupy part of Syrian territory, seriously violating of the sovereignty of this country

Of course, now there is a limited military cooperation in Syria between Moscow and Ankara, including the exchange of intelligence information. This cooperation has allowed the Syrian army to regain control of the eastern districts of Aleppo and may create the conditions for exemption from Islamist radicals of Aleppo and Idlib provinces. But it is not known how such co-operation in Syria will develop further. Apparently, it is necessary to squeeze the Turkish troops and pro-Turkish armed forces in the form of the Free Syrian Army from Syrian territory with the help of the Kurds.

Consequently, the Russian-Turkish interaction in Syria on the battlefield until carries more tactical character in nature, and the Iranian-Turkish military cooperation is absent. This does not preclude Ankara's involvement in the Russian-Iranian military-political cooperation on the Syrian track in the future, but it requires, at a minimum, prior to solve the problem of Syrian Kurds (Turkey will never agree to the creation of a de facto independent Kurdistan).

The difficult situation is in Iraq, where Turkey closely coordinates its activities with the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan in the face of President Massoud Barzani in the economic sphere. In exchange Ankara demands refuse from Erbil to support the Syrian Kurds and non-interference in pro-Turkish affairs, especially on the Kurdish issue. And, as mentioned earlier, Moscow will shy away from involvement in the Iraqi crisis. Therefore, the Russian-Iranian cooperation here will be limited (at the level of the bilateral consultations and coordination of positions on specific issues).

Serious activity of Ankara is observed in Yemen to combat Shiite Huthis and Afghanistan, as evidenced by its dependence on Riyadh and its own regional ambitions. This, of course, is taken into account, but Pakistan plays there a much greater role. Strengthening relations between Moscow and Islamabad, and creates a good basis for mitigating the Iran-Pakistan conflict.

All this makes it quite difficult security cooperation between Russia and Turkey in West Asia, because they have sometimes opposing views on the events in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. At the same time, cooperation between the two countries is possible in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. But this is not observed with regard to the Iranian-Turkish relations, which are usually limited to the area of the economy.

Limited opportunities for cooperation between Moscow and Tehran and Ankara are observed in the South Caucasus. In particular, the Turkish side considers Nagorno Karabakh exclusive property of Azerbaijan. Of course, Russia, Turkey and Iran stand there against a regional war with unforeseeable consequences. However, Turkey continues to provide a comprehensive military support to Azerbaijan, up to accommodation of the Turkish aviation base near Baku. Moreover, Pakistan is drawn into the supply of weapons to this country. This requires on the part of Moscow and Tehran of coordinated policy to curb the ambitions of Ankara and Islamabad

No less of a problem for Russia pose the attempts of Turkey to intervene in the internal affairs of Abkhazia under the pretext of restoring historical links, as well as to create a tripartite military-political alliance of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, which is directed against Moscow and Tehran. To counteract this, it is desirable to consider the possibility of strengthening between Russia, Iran and Armenia military cooperation.

The basis for this could be the fact that in response to Azerbaijan unleashed in April this year, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow will not only provide the necessary weapons to Yerevan, but also decided to establish a joint group of forces. It is clear that Georgia may prevent strengthening of the Russian military base in Gyumri. Therefore it is necessary to explore the possibilities of delivery of personnel, weapons and military equipment through the Iranian territory. This experience Moscow and Tehran already have got in the conduct of joint military action in Syria. In particular, on an interim basis the Iranian territory was used for delivery of aircraft to that country.

However, containment of Turkey in the South Caucasus should not preclude attempts of mutual beneficial cooperation. In particular, the possibility of joint efforts of the three countries to prevent the destabilization of Azerbaijan, where oil production is reduced, an increasingly radicalized religious and ethnic confrontation and the growing social and economic problems.

This is reflected, for example, in the mass migration of the working population in the Russian Federation. However, against the backdrop of the current economic problems, including those caused by the financial and economic sanctions of the West, part of the migrant workers returned to Azerbaijan without having found work in Russia. And under the influence of the local radical Islamists, including those who received combat experience in Iraq and Syria, they can take part in anti-government activities under religious slogans.

Consequently, Russia and Iran have an important role in shaping security in West Asia. And they are able to offer a new approach to this, based on the non-bloc basis, and taking into account the interests of all states involved in the process.

As part of the visit to Tehran, December 12, 2016 I took my visit to the Institute of Caucasian Studies. On the Iranian side Mehdi Hosseini Tagiabad participated in the meeting, director of this institution, as well as its employees.

Institute of Caucasian Studies was established in 2008 at the University of Tehran. He conducts research material and spiritual heritage of Russia, Turkey, Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as their economic potential. This is the first specialized institute in Iran, which is engaged in a comprehensive study of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Tehran University provides this institution premises and finances of its activities.

At the same time the Institute of Caucasian Studies works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Organization for Culture and Islamic Relations and other centers interested in expert information about the Caucasus and Central Asia. Another area of activity of the institute is familiarization with Russian experts and researchers from other countries who are engaged in the Caucasus and Central Asian studies. And considering this fact Iran has strong ties with Russia and all countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the Institute focuses not only on political issues but also on the social, historical and cultural aspects.

Recently, the Institute of Caucasus Studies held a number of international conferences. The work of one of them was attended by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia. During my visits to the institute an international seminar on regional security issues was held there. In this seminar I gave a talk: "The space for cooperation and competition between Iran and Russia in Central Asia and the Caucasus." After the seminar I was handed a letter of gratitude from the Institute of Caucasian Studies.

Thus, trip to Tehran held 10-12 December, 2016 has allowed presenting the Institute of CIS countries on the largest international conferences in Iran. It is obvious that its conduct was, at least, supported by President Hassan Rouhani, who may well be selected for a second term in May 2017 In this case the Tehran International Conference on Security can purchase annual character. Participation in the conference of representatives of the Institute of CIS countries increases the international prestige of our organization and contributes to its recognition by the international community.