1006 GMT May 28, 2022
Iranian President Seyyed Ebrahim Raeisi’s trip to Russia and the upcoming talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin will constitute a turning point in relations between the two countries.
As a matter of fact, the Russian government sees Iran and the 13th administration in a positive light. Therefore, it was not without reason that as the new Iranian administration was getting started, under the auspices of the Russian Federation, Tehran was admitted as a permanent member to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Of course, all governments pursue their national interests in international relations, and Tehran and Moscow are no exception to the rule. The convergence of Iranian and Russian approaches, however, are becoming increasingly evident.
Relations between the two countries can be evaluated from various vantage points and with different assumptions. But an independent, objective assessment leads us to the conclusion that Russia is a powerful neighbor of Iran to the north, and strengthening relations with this powerful neighbor falls within the framework defined by rational foreign policy principles.
The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic is based on dignity, wisdom and expediency, which has been independent of power blocs for the past 43 years. In fact, we have always pursued a foreign policy based on national interests and within the framework of these three principles.
It is also important to note which Russia we are facing. Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, a westward-leaning Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the new Russia led by Mr. Putin?
We Iranians, of course, do not have fond memories of Tsarist Russia. We also had fundamental differences with the Soviet Union over matters of belief and faith. And due to its pro-Western approach, the Russia which emerged for a short while after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not in line with our policies.
However, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now dealing with a new Russia that came to power in 2000 under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, whose orientation is diametrically opposed to Russia’s past trends. During this period, Russia sought to restore its position and supremacy, develop its infrastructure, and rebuild its economy. Iran seeks to strengthen its relations with this new Russia, with the two countries having many areas for synergetic cooperation, both politically and economically.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been at the forefront of standing up against US unilateralism. Russia and China are close to Iran in this regard. Given the population and economy of China, the population and geostrategic position and power of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the size and both defensive and offensive military might of Russia, these three countries can form a powerful bloc in the world, if put together.
Moreover, Russia and Iran have a good potential for economic cooperation. Russia is a large country, with a population of 150 million, which imports 240-250 billion dollars’ worth of products per year. Just imagine if Iran acquired one percent of this huge market. In that scenario, Iran would export 2.5 billion dollars’ worth of exports per annum to Russia.
For its part, Russia produces 120 to 130 million tons of grains per year, of which 80 million tons are for domestic consumption, and 50 million tons are for export. Naturally, it is much more affordable for us to import wheat from our northern neighbor compared to some distant country in, say, Latin America.
When the Islamic Republic of Iran facilitates imports from Russia, it can reciprocally count on exports to Russia. We indeed have a significant capacity for exports to Russia. Our horticultural and agricultural products, seasonal vegetables, fish and shrimp outputs, dairy products and various nuts can easily find a market in Russia. In doing so, we obviously need to address some of our domestic structural problems and barriers with which our exporters have to deal. For example, an Iranian exporter has to coordinate its export efforts with several disjointed offices, which are less than desirable in terms of administrative efficiency.
Therefore, it is good to create a single staff and command for our national export endeavors so that exporters do not wander among various offices. In addition, launching and operating the North-South corridor will certainly create a good economic potential for Iran.
In fact, if we want to have strong political relations with any country, including Russia, we must strengthen our economic relations. In practice, political relations will only be as strong as economic and cultural relations. President Raeisi and President Putin will surely consider these political and economic considerations in their talks, which will hopefully clarify the long-term perspective of relations between the two countries.
*Kazem Jalali is the Iranian ambassador to Russia.