BY MARIYA PAK FEUER
On April 17th, during National Army Day celebrations, Iran displayed part of its new S-300 missile defense system. Delivered this year from Russia, the mobile, long-range, missile complex can target aircraft, and has the capacity to engage ballistic missiles. Although the missiles are defensive in nature, and therefore are not prohibited by the United Nations, the transaction irritates supporters of the Iran Deal Initially, this may seem to indicate Russia’s support of Iran in its opposition to the U.S., but the true motive is that Russia opposes a strong Iran with vested Western interests, which is precisely what the Nuclear Deal offers.
Russia, like most stakeholders in the region, is fearful of a nuclear Iran, and understands the rationale behind the Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran will not produce nuclear weapons during the lifetime of the agreement, and a long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear problem may be found during the time it is in place. However, Russia opposes the idea of Iran gaining fortitude in the region, as it may lead to an expensive and exhaustive regional competition
Similar to Russia, Iran is a major energy producer in the region. Although cooperation between Iran and Russia is possible, it is less likely to occur in terms of gas and oil sales. Iran has long dreamt of plans to build a gas pipeline to Europe via Turkey. These plans include tapping into the Russian-dominated oil and gas fields of Central Asia, thereby building another pipeline linking the region to Iran. This would reduce European dependence on Russian gas, and would result in Russia losing leverage over Europe.
Russia’s other rival in the region, China, is actively promoting its high-speed rail infrastructure network across the Eurasian continent. The new railway will begin in western China and, on its way to the Iranian capital Tehran, will pass through Central Asia rather than Russia. The first train from this system already made its Tehran debut in January of 2016. With sanctions lifted, Tehran could become a major trade hub between Europe and China. Being left out from this major economic project could significantly harm the Russian economy.
Russia fears that the Iran Nuclear Deal will make Iran more open to Western ideas, and values. Iran’s economic potential will certainly attract foreign investors and trade. Western companies will enter the country, create ties with the people, and develop the local economy. The process will create a large group of people directly benefiting from such relationships, ultimately making Iran more susceptible to international pressure and influence.
Russia is conflicted when it comes to Iran. The Iran Nuclear Deal gives hope for a nuclear-free Iran something that Russia, and other neighboring states value. However, it also creates an opportunity for Iran to rise, and become Russia’s regional competitor for oil and gas markets. Taking into consideration its current role in the oil market, Russia has chosen the safer route; speeding up delivery of the S-300 systems in an attempt to undermine the Iran Nuclear Deal, while maintaining the status quo.
Image source: en.kremlin.ru
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ERA Institute.