Is lifting of Iran sanctions a double-edged sword for Russia?
Iran nuclear deal has strengthened Russia’s position as a mediator, partner and a powerful player on the world stage.
A sanctions-free Iran marks a new beginning for the country as well as the international community. Europe and the United States lifted sanctions against the country on Saturday following the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announcement of the fulfillment of Iranian obligations required under the nuclear deal.
The deal could be reached due to the political will of the Iranian government but, at the same time, would have been hardly possible without Russian participation. Through the prism of Russia’s domestic situation though, the nuclear agreement, and the lifting of sanctions, can be counted as its success as well as failure.
For Russia sustained rock bottom oil prices means more or less inevitable economic collapse.Maria Dubovikova
Russia, which has itself been under sanctions, played a major role in liberating Iran from the burden of sanctions, often calming down the hotheads in Tehran. Russia continued its normal ties with Iran, sometimes yielding to international pressure, as was in the case of terms of delivery for S-300 missiles. It largely maintained balance between both sides during the negotiation process.
It criticized Iran when its maneuvers became unacceptable for the international community and criticized the West when its policy threatened the negotiation process. Russia assumed the position of the unprejudiced arbiter during the process. It remained a flexible and a desirable partner both for the West as well as Iran. Western partners to the negotiations have repeatedly stressed the crucial role Russian negotiators played in the entire process.
The lifting of sanctions against Iran is indeed an important achievement for Russia’s diplomacy. It has strengthened the country’s position of a reliable mediator, partner and a powerful player on the world stage; which can effectively tackle the most complex challenges and intrastate dialog through diplomacy.
Prospects of cooperation
The lifting of sanctions allows Russia to extend its partnership with Iran. After imposing embargo on goods from Europe and fruits and vegetables from Turkey, following the recent crisis with Ankara, Russia has failed to substitute import with domestically produced goods. Under these circumstances, Iran may prove to be a good alternative.
On the other hand, Iran has more or less successfully survived the sanctions owing to its inner capacities, manufacturing capabilities and technology. The lifting of sanctions is likely to further boost Iran’s economy. For Russia, import from Iran can save its consumers and provide them with a choice of good quality fruits, vegetables, and dairy products etc.
It goes without saying that this development will lead to enhanced bilateral trade and it will not be limited to foodstuff alone. Russia and Iran will improve technological and humanitarian cooperation as well. Abolition of visas for Russians entering Iran can provide tourists with a new destination in the absence of Egypt and Turkey.
However, things could also prove to be counterproductive for Russia as Iran possesses significant oil reserves. The supply of large volumes of cheap Iranian oil may lead to further decline in the commodity’s price and may hamper its return to higher levels. For Russia sustained rock bottom oil prices means more or less inevitable economic collapse as it is heavily dependent on oil export as a key source of revenue.
The end of sanctions is bound to enhance Iran’s presence on the world stage. Growing cooperation with the world and integration in the international economic system will boost its economy. This will lead to greater involvement in the affairs of the region and even increase its interference in domestic affairs of its neighbors.
This interference may not be direct but through other means, including exploiting the sectarian divide in the Arab world and through extending support to its proxies. Yemen has already witnessed signs of this even though Tehran continues to refute the claim. Iran has also actively gained influence in Iraq and is playing a major role in Syria.
On the whole, Russia is in a win-some loose-some situation as far as Iranian affair is concerned where the advantages of the breakthrough are as noticeable and strong as its disadvantages. The only winner from the lifting of sanctions is Iran itself, which can now play the role it likes, taking into account its inherent capacities.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme