Can Iran Trust Russia?

Can Iran Trust Russia?

Khamenei thinks America is up to no good, yet has a naively positive view of Putin's Russia.


Khamenei’s views in the foreign-policy arena are similar. The West must be viewed with suspicion, because it supported Saddam Hussein and his regime during the war with Iran in the 1980s. Thus, his motto is “yes to diplomacy, no to trusting the enemy.”

Khamenei’s View of Russia


During a ceremony marking the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini death in June 2006, and six years after Putin had taken over control of Russia, Khamenei said,

“We have good relations with Russia. The Russians are well aware of the consequences for them if a pro-American regime comes to power in Iran. We have common interests with them in Central Asia and in the Middle East.”

Thus, in Khamenei’s view antagonism toward a common enemy, the United States, is the basis for unity between Iran and Russia. When in January 2007 Igor Ivanov, Secretary-General of Russia’s National Security Council, met with Khamenei in Tehran, he thanked Ivanov for Putin’s written message delivered by Ivanov and said,

Our two countries can be partners in political, economic, regional and international affairs. The Islamic Republic of Iran desires expanding its relations with Russia. We believe that we can go well beyond the current level of relations between our countries.

Khamenei added that the United States wants to dominate the region, but has not achieved its goal and “cooperation between Iran and Russia on regional affairs within a well-defined framework will prevent the U.S. domination.” After pointing out that Putin had also emphasized the same in his message, “Particularly regarding the completion of [then under construction] Bushehr light-water nuclear reactor,” Khamenei expressed his hope the cooperation and carrying out the mutual obligations will accelerate.

Putin-Khamenei Meetings

Putin has met with Khamenei twice. The first time was in July 2007, when he visited Tehran to convince Khamenei to take a constructive approach to the [then ongoing] nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. In that meeting Putin said,

The national interests of Iran and Russia are tied to Iran being a powerful and effective voice in international arena. Moscow has no limitations in its relations with Tehran, and will move along this path [of cooperation] without any hesitation.

Khamenei welcomed Putin’s statement, and then criticized the United States for its “illegitimate interests” in region, saying,

Just as an independent Iran serves Russia’s interests, an independent Russia also serves Iran’s national interests. We have a good image of the Russian nation in mind, which is due to the excellent resistance [against foreigners] that it has demonstrated at various times.

Putin’s second meeting with Khamenei was in November of 2015. The two met for two hours, during which Khamenei praised Russia’s role in regional and international affairs, and said,

The long-term plan of the United States is against the interests of all nations, particularly our two nations, which can be thwarted by closer cooperation between our two countries.

 Khamenei referred to Putin as a “distinguished leader” in today’s world. Pointing to the close working relation between Tehran and Moscow on political and security affairs over the eighteen months prior to their second meeting Khamenei said, “The Americans always try to neutralize their competitors, but you have prevented that.”

Khamenei said Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria has increased the credibility of Russia and Putin in regional and international affairs, adding,

The Americans’ long-term plan for dominating Syria and the Middle East is meant to compensate the historic vacuum [that exists] in their domination of Western Asia. This plan is a threat to all nations, particularly Iran and Russia. The Americans and their allies want to achieve at the negotiation table what they could not through military means [in Syria and the Middle East]. We must be alert about this and prevent it.

Khamenei also said that Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate and legal President of the Syrian people and that the United States cannot make decision for them and decide who should be Syria’s president. “The United States and its allies have aided, directly and indirectly, such terrorist groups as Daesh [also known as ISIS or ISI], which is why we [Iran] will not negotiate with them on bilateral issues, except in the nuclear arena,” Khamenei added.

According to Khamenei’s website, Putin supported expanding the bilateral relationship with Iran, and asked for Iran’s cooperation in the regional and international affairs. The key point that Putin made was,

We view you [Iran] as a reliable ally in the region and the world. We are committed [to our relations] and unlike others we do not stab our friends in the back, we do not do anything behind their backs, and if we have differences, we resolve them through negotiations.

Putin said that the views of Tehran and Moscow regarding Syria are close, and that the problem there only has a political solution that can be achieved through participation of all ethnic groups and accepting the votes of the Syrian people. Emphasizing that Russia’s military attacks on terrorist groups in Syria will continue, Putin said that cooperation between Tehran and Moscow is necessary. He then gave Khamenei one of the oldest copies of the Quran as a gift.

A Quran Instead of Commitments

Khamenei and his supporters greatly exaggerated the significance of Putin’s second meeting with him. Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister and current senior foreign-policy adviser to Khamenei, said, “As someone who has worked in the foreign-policy arena for thirty-four years I can say that ever since the Revolution there has never been a meeting with such quality and importance in which various strategic issues were discussed,” adding that the president of a nation whose people are mostly Orthodox Christians gave the leader of a Muslim nation a copy of the Quran as a gift.

Iran has tens of millions of copies of the Quran. Iran’s problems and difficulties have nothing to do with lacking copies of the Quran. The Quran that Putin gave Khamenei had its origins in the historic Levant region during the Umayyad Dynasty. Thus, let us consider what Putin and Russia have done for Iran that deserves such praise.

First, Russia has voted for all the key United Nations Security Council resolutions against Iran. For comparison, the United States vetoes practically any resolution against Israel.

Second, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had signed agreements with Germany to build two light water nuclear reactors in Bushehr, in southern Iran. But, by the time 75 percent of the work had been done on one reactor, and 60 percent on the other, the Revolution ended the work. In 1994 Iran signed an agreement with Russia for completion of the first unit, which was supposed to come online in 2000, but the reactor came online only in September of 2011. The delay was caused by concessions that Russia had made to Israel and the United States.

Third, in June 1989 then president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani visited Russia. In his memoirs Rafsanjani wrote, “During negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev we were told that the Soviet Union will sell us MiG-29 fighters, T-80 tanks, SA-5 missiles, sea-to-sea missiles, etc.” But, Russia did not deliver on most of those promises.

It was announced in January 2009 that Russia will sell to Iran the S-300 missile system, which is a defensive weapon. The agreement for selling the system was worth $800 million, but so far Russia has refused to deliver the complete system, even though their sale would not violate any UN Security Council resolution. It was only in March 2015 that Putin cancelled the ban on selling the missile system to Iran.

While according to the annual report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, published a while ago, $1.676 trillion was spent on weapons during 2015, including $87 billion by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s military expenditure has decreased by 30 percent between 2006 and 2015, and was only $10.3 billion in 2015. In 2015 alone the United States sold $33 billion worth of weapons to the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf area. During the same period Russia exported $15 billion worth of weapons, it still has not delivered all of Iran’s missile system.

Fourth, the IRGC chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in March that “given the current ceasefire there has not been any change in Russia’s policy toward Syria, and it is completely coordinated with the Resistance Front [Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and Syrian government]. Capturing Palmyra is the evidence of full coordination between Russia and Syria.” But, the fact is that Russia pursues its own interests in Syria, which may sometimes be against Iran’s.

Fifth, Russia has close relations with Iran’s archenemies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. It pursues its own national interests.

One cannot, of course, rebuke Putin for pursuing Russia’s national interests. The problem is Khamenei’s double standards whereby he views the United States and President Obama completely negatively, while heaps praise on Putin and Russia. This cannot be justified by any sort of rationale.

The Obama era was, and still is, the best period for resolving the issues between Iran and the United States. The President’s successor, even if it is the Democrat Hillary Clinton, will be a more difficult period, given Clinton’s tough positions toward Iran. Putin will continue playing games with Iran and Khamenei for Russia’s interests. He will give Khamenei another old copy of the Quran in his next meeting with him.