Iranians voted to elect new members of parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The results show people favoring reform, integration into the global economic and political systems, and restoring ties with the West. This is good news for Iran but not so for Russia, which has long had close ties with Iranian hardliners, who proclaim the United States the “Great Satan” and oppose rapprochement with the West.
The nuclear deal, and the subsequent lifting of sanctions, herald a new era for Iran, which is interested in Western investments and advanced technologies. It needs foreign investment in its outdated refinery infrastructure, as well as its oil and gas production infrastructure.
President Hassan Rowhani’s recent visit to Europe shows Iran’s readiness to spend money, boost its economy, and raise its regional and global profile, to the extreme anxiety of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Sunni Muslim world.
Russia, now under sanctions itself, is suffering from the oil-price drop and is incapable of investing in Iran. Moscow’s proposals are limited. Iran is looking to the West with much more curiosity and hope than to Russia.
The country will become Moscow’s competitor in terms of energy exports. Iran can substitute Russia in the European natural gas market, which is in the interest of European consumers. If Russia does not manage to make its economy less oil-dependent - and most likely it will not - this will cause an economic catastrophe for the country.
Iran is looking to the West with much more curiosity and hope than to Russia.Maria Dubovikova
Moscow and Tehran will continue cooperating militarily, as Russian weaponry is less expensive than its Western counterparts. They will continue nuclear and space cooperation, and maintain a common position on the Syrian conflict.
Tehran wants to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, or replace him with anyone loyal to it. It needs Moscow and Russian influence in the negotiation process to make this aspiration come true.
Anti-Western rhetoric will remain in Iranian political discourse, at least in the medium term. However, this will most likely not affect the pragmatic approach of Iranian foreign policy, and the intensity of such rhetoric will diminish.
A stronger Iran will lead to heightened regional tensions, and any Iranian provocation may bring about a return to its containment by the international community. At that point, however, Tehran will be still stronger and less manageable. Furthermore, there are risks of domestic instability amid tensions between reformists and conservatives.
Moscow is following developments closely. Tehran’s promises to keep cooperating with Russia are not convincing enough, as Moscow understands that the current sense of pragmatism in Iran is not on its side.
Moscow needs long-term strategies to prevent undesirable risks and losses, and to decide whether it is choosing the right strategy and friends. Given that Tehran’s behavior is unpredictable, relying on it could cause serious losses for Moscow in the future.
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