Russia and Iran in Turbulent International Relations

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Russian political elite continues to assert that contemporary international relations have entered into a difficult period of turbulence. President Dmitri Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov use the “turbulence” term and terms close to it in their public speeches.

Period of turbulence will be prolonged and painful

President Medvedev drew attention of foreign ambassadors accredited in Russia to instability of international relations and world economy. Receiving the letters of credence from fifteen new ambassadors to the Russian Federation, the President said on December 7, 2011: “The world faces a number of global and regional problems today. Difficult processes are taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, and there is a debt crisis in the euro zone. The overall situation is complex and the international financial markets are unstable. In these circumstances, it is more important than ever to take responsible and coordinated decisions and to work together openly and productively” [1].

Prime Minister Putin who strives to be politically accurate and understandable as a presidential candidate for 2012 elections has expressed his despair in one of its articles: “The crisis in the developed countries has exposed a dangerous and, in my opinion, purely political trend: a reckless, populist build-up of state social obligations without any connection to the growth of labour productivity, and the engendering of social irresponsibility in some sections of the population. But it is now becoming clear to many that the age of prosperity created by other people's efforts is coming to an end.

But speaking in a deeper, longer-term sense, we must admit that the current problems have nothing to do with market volatility. By and large, what the world is facing today is a systemic crisis, a tectonic process of global transformation. It is a visible manifestation of our transition to a new cultural, economic, technological and geopolitical era. The world is entering a period of turbulence, which will be prolonged and painful. We should not be under any illusions” [2].

Foreign Minister Lavrov analyses the situation in more details. He writes in his International Relations in a Turbulence Zone: Where are the Points of Support article published in Diplomatic Yearboook for 2011:

“In the outgoing year international relations have hit a zone of turbulence. A complicated situation developed in international financial markets – the economies of several countries, including euro zone states, faced the persistent effects of the crisis, among them the accumulation of excessive amounts of sovereign debt. A long overdue renewal of the political and socio-economic systems in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, was accompanied by outbreaks of armed conflict and violence. The need to avoid fault lines between civilizations and clashes on interethnic, intercultural and interfaith grounds stood all the more pronounced as the pressing task of practical politics. At the same time the cross-border security challenges and threats did not disappear anywhere; they can only be resisted by joint efforts of the international community”.

The ongoing global shifts facilitate creating more flexible, non-bloc mechanisms of multilateral interaction and multi-vector network diplomacy based on equality and mutual consideration of interests. This opens a new “window of opportunity” for developing international relations based on a pragmatic addition of efforts cleansed of intellectual inertia in the spirit of the stereotypes of the Cold War and underpinned by an ideology-free, creative quest for joint responses to common challenges. Their accumulation in international relations pushes the leading states to work within a positive, unifying agenda” [3].

Last days of 2011 and first days of 2012 have showed growing tension around Iran’s nuclear problem. Taken together with events in Syria, Iranian issue contains some risks and dangers to Russian interests.

Islamic Republic of Iran remains to be very important partner of the Russian Federation in the Near and Middle East. In terms of foreign policy and diplomacy, Iran cooperates with Armenia, a strategic partner and ally of Russia, and with the Syrian Arab Republic. Despite some misunderstandings and contradictions, Moscow and Tehran share views on many fundamental issues of contemporary world and regional politics. Economically speaking, Iran continues to be an important consumer of Russian technologies and, to some extent, weapons.

Russian Security Council is pessimistic and warns;

Russian elite has very seriously reacted to the aggravation of the situation on Iran. Secretary to the RF Security Council Nikolai Patrushev who usually kept silence and very seldom commented international security events gave interview on Iran and Syria to the daily Kommersant.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said a military intervention in Syria led by NATO members is possible in the near future and “the main strike forces will be neighboring Turkey.” Iran is the main target because of its ties with Syria, he said, adding that Turkey and the United States are both working to create a no-fly zone in Syria.

“There is information that NATO members and some Arab states of the Persian Gulf, acting in line with the scenario seen in Libya, intend to turn the current interference with Syrian affairs into a direct military intervention,” said Patrushev. “The main strike forces will be supplied not by France, Britain and Italy, but possibly by neighboring Turkey [in this instance],” the Russian official said, adding that the U.S. and Turkey are planning to create a no-fly zone in Syria in order to secure a base for Syrian rebels. Official of such high rank said that Turkey, which had excellent relations with Syria until recent months, is vying for influence in the region with Iran.

Military escalation is also likely in Iran, with “real danger” of a U.S. strike, Patrushev said. The current tension over Syria was linked to the Iran issue, he said. “They want to punish Damascus not so much for the repression of the opposition, but rather for its refusal to break off relations with Tehran.”

“There is a likelihood of military escalation of the conflict, and Israel is pushing the Americans toward it,” Patrushev stressed. “There is a real danger of a U.S. military strike on Iran,” he said. “At present, the U.S. sees Iran as its main problem. They are trying to transform Tehran from an enemy into a supportive partner, and to achieve this, to change the current regime by whatever means,” he added.

Tehran could respond by blocking the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran, through which 35 percent of the world’s seaborne traded oil passes, Patrushev said. “It cannot be ruled out that the Iranians will be able to carry out their threat to shut exports of Saudi oil through the Strait of Hormuz if faced with military actions against them.” [4] 

What are all these and other words of Patrushev interview mean or may indicate? We believe that Mr. Patrushev gave the interview after long consultation and with agreement of President Medvedev and, possibly, Prime Minister Putin. Deep analysis and conversation of Nikolai Patrushev with Security Council of Russia experts preceded the interview. So, the interview was not a spontaneous and emotional reaction to developments around Iran.  Second, Kremlin perceives Iranian situation as a part of complex and dangerous knot of international contradictions which have to do with Middle East, energy pipelines, crisis in Syria, Israel interests and pre-election considerations of the U.S. President Obama.

Third, Russian Council of Security pays great deal of attention to this problem. The very next day after the interview, on 13 January the Council held its meeting. President Medvedev and permanent members of the Council discussed various issues of domestic and foreign policy of Russia. At the meeting, Prime Minister Putin, who did not participate in every meeting, was present as well as other key foreign policy officials like Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior, of Defense, directors of Russian special services, Speaker and ex-Speaker of the State Duma (lower house of Russian Parliament) [5]. We suppose, the Iranian issue was discussed among others. 

Fourth, Russia expects security risks to rise after the withdrawal of the U.S Armed Forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. Security Council experts anticipate extremism, terrorism and narcotics traffic to be advanced and their sphere of influence to be enlarged.

Finally, we also see a definite message to Ankara in the Patrushev interview. Moscow warns Ankara from hasty steps and from deep or any military involvement in any NATO or non-NATO interference in Syria and Iran affairs. As far as we can conclude, Russian Secretary to the Security Council warns that Turkey can get in trouble and be responsible for ambitious plans of some non-Middle East countries.

Diplomats have their own important comments

Continuing to discuss the subject of possible Turkey policy scenarios, we would like to pay attention to a recent interview of a retired Turkish diplomat, Ambassador Temel İskit. A well-experienced and wise ambassador, Mr. İskit strongly recommends cautious foreign policy to Ankara. “With so much instability in its neighborhood, it is time for Turkey to be cautious in its foreign policy. It is better for Turkey to observe the situation around it carefully. No one knows how the events will evolve since there is currently a process of transition. And in a transition, being cautious is the most important virtue” retired Ambassador said in 15 January interview with Zaman [6]. This cautious policy is particularly necessary because Turkey and Professor Ahmet Davutoglu,s Concept of Strategic Depth, very interesting and friendly to Russia, by the way, deserves different final result and destiny. We see a promising space of Russian-Turkish diplomatic-political understanding and some basis for a joint regional action in the words of respected diplomat of Turkey.

Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs has long pursued intensive diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear problem. In these days MFA is very active in explaining its position in relation to possible tough decisions of international community. According to Russian diplomats, all international decisions relating to Iran must be multi-sided, not one-sided, they must be inclusive, not exclusive one side and inclusive the other side. Decisions must be made on the basis of negotiations, diplomacy and compromise, not on the basis of the use of military force.   It is for this reason that Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, writes in his above-mentioned article:

“The entire course of international events confirms the historical truth: the reverse side of the use of force is the recognition of one’s own impotence, especially in regard to the ability to achieve mutually acceptable solutions by civilized, political methods. In the era of globalization, it is very true: any use of force is counterproductive and serves as evidence of the notorious limitation of a horizon of politico-diplomatic efforts. Use of force cannot provide a long-lasting and reliable settlement to intrastate conflicts, which usually have no simple solutions. External players are required to work painstakingly and consistently to promote dialogue among all political forces involved in a particular crisis. We intend to continue to closely monitor the implementation in practice of NATO’s new strategic concept. … Like our western partners, we are interested in a speedy settlement in ‘hot spots’. At the same time, as practice shows, the methods of pressure, the imposition of unilateral sanctions cannot be a panacea, but only complicate the search for solutions. In the XXI century when endeavoring to resolve them it is necessary to seek to engagement of individual countries rather than their isolation”. [7]

On 18 January Foreign Minister Lavrov responded to questions of media at the press conference and stressed that new sanctions and threats of use of force against Iran are directed to stimulate anti-government riots in Teheran [8].



Situation around Iran seems to be more difficult, mottled and mosaic. It contains not one or two but many dimensions of analysis and action. Several dimensions of the problem mean variety of solutions. Let us to point, here, at the most outstanding considerations which must be taken into account when we analyze Russian policy towards Iranian problem.

Putin coming to Russia Presidential power in spring of 2012 that is expected to be will most likely bring a pragmatic and multi-vector policy in the Middle East in general and in relation to Iran and Turkey in particular.  Both Turkey and Iran, and their peoples are very important and valuable to Russia. To our mind, Vladimir Putin and his advisory team will propose different policy recommendations and various scenarios for Iran and Turkey.

“War because of Iran” of which analysts and observers speak today has all perspectives to become detrimental for many countries and harmful to world economy.  Impression remains that the U.S. and the state of Israel have no capabilities to wage a Blitzkrieg against Iran.   The U.S. has a few stationary airports for combat aircraft to hit nuclear sites of Iran. It is unlikely that Turkey is ready to give such airports for U.S. disposal. Iran unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has not one but ten nuclear sites to be bombed and all of them are dispersed across Iran.  Both Israel and the U.S. have too little time to accomplish combat mission. Neither Turkey nor Saudi Arabia is ready to let the U.S / Israel use airport and other aircraft facilities for such a risky operation. Turkey and Saudi Arabia remain to be brotherly to Iran Islamic Republic. We should also imagine how many terrorist attacks will be carried on by anti-American and anti-Israeli radical groups in the Middle East and beyond.  In addition, Iran can hardly dare to close Ormuz Straits. Such an action will hit Iran the most, some experts say.  

Thus, picture of present Iranian crisis remains very complex and too risky. Russia and other responsible nations search for well-balanced and broad-based decisions in order to settle contradictions over Iran and Syria. It is obvious that Turkey and Russia act as key regional players in the crisis settlement.



1. Dmitry Medvedev received the letters of credence from fifteen new ambassadors to the Russian Federation.

December 7, 2011. he Kremlin, Moscow// URL:

2. Russia muscles up – the challenges we must rise to face. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s

article for the newspaper Izvestia. 6 January 2012/ Vladimir Putin. Prime Minister of the Russian Federation// 

3. Article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “International Relations in a Turbulence Zone:

Where are the Points of Support” 2084-29-12-2011/ The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation//



4. Интервью Секретаря Совета Безопасности Российской Федерации Н.П.Патрушева:

«Реальные угрозы для России, США и ЕС - в нынешней нестабильности»

(«Коммерсантъ» № 3 (4788) от 12.01.2012 г.)

/ Совет Безопасности Российской Федерации URL://

(Дата обращения 13.01.2012)

5. Совещание с постоянными членами Совета Безопасности.

13 января 2012 года. Московская область, Горки/ Президент России//

URL://   (Дата обращения 17 января 2012 года)

6. Former diplomat İskit: Tehran may be planning to divide Iraq/ Zaman. 15 January 2012//


7. Article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,

“International Relations in a Turbulence Zone: Where are the Points of Support” 2084-29-12-2011/

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation//



8. Ответы Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова на вопросы

СМИ в ходе пресс-конференции по итогам деятельности российской дипломатии в

2011 году. Москва, 18 января 2012 года/ Министерство иностранных дел Российской Федерации.

Официальный сайт// Режим доступа: [Дата обращения 18.01.2012]

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