Can Iran Trust Russia?

Can Iran Trust Russia? ... 04/05/2016 Politics

Keywords:#1979_Revolution, #2015, #Akbar_Hashemi_Rafsanjani, #Ali_Akbar_Velayati, #Ali_Khamenei, #Ali_Larijani, #American, #Arab, #Arabia, #Asia, #Ayatollah, #Ayatollah_Ali_Khamenei, #Ayatollah_Ruhollah_Khomeini, #Bashar_al-Assad, #Bushehr, #Caucasus, #Central_Asia, #Christians, #Daesh, #Dynasty, #European, #France, #Germany, #Gorbachev, #Green_Movement, #Gulistan, #Hashemi_Rafsanjani, #Hezbollah, #Hillary_Clinton, #IRGC, #ISIS, #Iran, #Iranian, #Islam, #Islamic, #Islamic_Republic, #Islamic_Republic_of_Iran, #Islamic_Revolution, #Israel, #Jam, #January, #Khamenei,, #Khatami, #Khomeini, #Lebanese, #Levant, #Maxim, #McDonald, #MiG-29, #Middle_East, #Mikhail_Gorbachev, #Mir, #Mir_Hossein_Mousavi, #Mohammad_Ali_Jafari, #Mohammad_Khatami, #Mohammad_Reza_Pahlavi, #Moscow, #Mousavi, #Muslim, #Napoleon, #National_Security_Council,, #Nations, #Obama, #Pahlavi, #Palmyra, #People, #Persian, #Persian_Gulf, #President, #President_Obama, #Quran, #Rafsanjani, #Revolution, #Reza_Pahlavi, #Ruhollah_Khomeini, #Russia, #Russian, #S-300, #Saddam, #Saddam_Hussein, #Saudi, #Saudi_Arabia, #Secretary-General, #Security_Council, #Shah, #Soviet, #Soviet_Union, #Stockholm, #Supreme_Leader, #Syria, #Syrian, #Syrian_government, #Tehran, #UN_Security_Council, #Umayyad, #United_Nations, #United_Nations_Security_Council, #United_States, #Vladimir_Putin, #War_and_Peace, #Western, #Western_European, #World_War_II, #Zahra_Rahnavard

Ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stated that the United States is Iran’s enemy that cannot be trusted, and that wishes to topple the Islamic Republic and dominate Iran again. Since last year’s nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany), Khamenei has repeatedly claimed that Iran has carried out its obligations under the agreement, whereas the U.S. has done so only “on paper.”
The fact is that every nation and government pursues what it considers to be its national interests and expediency. To do so, every government uses everything in its disposal, including conspiracy, spying, deception, infiltration, etc. Thus, even friendly nations do not completely trust each other. Recall that the U.S. eavesdropped on leaders of many Western European nations.
But, the problem is that Khamenei speaks as if only the United States, Israel and their Western allies try to gain influence in Iran, or pursue policies that are not in Iran’s national interests. At the same time, Khamenei has been presenting a completely positive image of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Yet even a glance at Iran’s history over the past two hundred years indicates that Russia has harmed Iran repeatedly including, for example, by imposing the Treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) on Iran, forcing it to cede large parts of its territory in the Caucasus region. Khamenei is also pursuing expanded relations with Russia to form a united front with it against the West. This requires not only a glaring double standard, but the breach of one of the main slogans of the 1979 Revolution, namely, “neither West nor East.” How did this come to be?
Khamenei, the Novel Reader
Khamenei likes to read Western novels, which I discussed in a previous article. He has also read many Russian novels, and considers himself well informed on the history of the October 1917 Revolution in Russia. In fact, some aspects of that revolution represent models that he thinks he should follow.
In a meeting with artists and cultural officials of the state in July 1994, Khamenei complained about the intellectuals, poets and writers in the pre-Revolution Iran, claiming that none of them joined the 1979 Revolution. He then turned to the Russian Revolution, and while conceding that it was very brutal and violent, “It attracted a large number of Russian intellectuals and first-rate writers and poets.” He mentioned Aleksey Tolstoy (1883-1945), the Russian writer—“whom I like very much”—and the fact that up until 1925 he was even a counter-revolutionary who had left Russia, but after he returned home, he wrote a “great novel” about the Russian Revolution that described beautifully its events. Khamenei then mentioned another Russian writer, Mikhail Sholokhov (1905-1984),who wrote And Quiet Flows the Don. Initially, Russian officials did not even allow publication of the epic novel, Khamenei said, but, “Unfortunately, [our] intellectuals, poets, and musicians did not support the Islamic Republic.”
Ali Larijani, the current Speaker of the Majles [parliament], headed the Voice and Visage of the Islamic Republic [the state-controlled national networks of radio and television] for 10 years, beginning in 1992. In a confidential letter to him, Khamenei wrote,
“If you read and watch the Russian novels and plays, you would know that they did their utmost to produce the best works, such as, for example, The Mother (a novel) and Vassa Zheleznova (a drama), both by Maxim Gorky; And Quiet Flows the Don, and tens of other novels and plays. They picture Russia both before the Revolution and the sacrifices made by the people and leaders after the Revolution. But, the work that has been done [in Iran] in this regard ever since the Revolution has been close to nothing. It is your duty to recognize this great responsibility and try to make up for it by serious and sustained work. You should report to me on the progress that you make” [Via Larijani’s ten-year memoirs, posted on the website of Jaam-e Jam, the website close to him].
To Khamenei, Russians’ use of music to encourage people to take part in wars is a model that should be emulated. In another meeting with cultural officials and figures in July 2011, Khamenei said,
I have heard that during World War II in Russia, the music played by Habil Aliyev [known in Iran as Aliyev’s Shur], the well-known music that you gentlemen know, but I do not and have never listened to, had the greatest effect on the people for exciting them to join the war efforts and go to the fronts. This means that the music was deployed for achieving people’s goals. Naturally, this is expected of any [true] artist in any nation. Thus, how can we be indifferent about this, while the enemy uses it?
To Khamenei, resisting the enemy is very important, which is why he said in September of 2005,
War and Peace of Leo Tolstoy is about the incredible resistance of the Russian People against Napoleon’s army, and the great movement of people of Moscow in order to defeat Napoleon. But, I believe the greatness of the book has its roots in the resistance spirit of the Russian people.
American Reform and Soviet-Style Collapse of the Islamic Republic
When the reform movement began in Iran after Mohammad Khatami was elected President in May 1997, Khamenei was deeply worried that the Islamic Republic would collapse in a way akin to what happened to the Soviet Union. He claimed that the Soviet collapse was an American plot using the weaknesses in the Soviet society, such as deep poverty, repression, bureaucratic corruption, ethnic and national tensions, and “deceived people,” such as Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as the mass media and culture. He then claimed that the United States intended to do the same in Iran.
In a long speech to senior officials in July 2000, Khamenei said that the Americans changed the meanings of Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika in a way that was acceptable to them. Then, Khamenei said, Boris Yeltsin entered the political arena, claimed that the pace of Gorbachev’s reforms was too slow, and accelerated them. Gorbachev was no longer useful to the Americans, Khamenei claimed and, thus, the Americans began propping up Yelstin through a “suspicious coup.” Yelstin was elected Russia’s President in 1991, and only seven months later the Soviet Union collapsed. “Through an intelligent 3-4 year plot, spending some funds, buying off some people, and using propaganda, the Americans could destroy the Soviet Union over the last 6-7 months [of its existence],” Khamenei concluded. His speech was shortly after Putin had been elected President in May 2000.
Khamenei also said that the goal of the United States was to transform Russia into a third-rate power, but the plot failed, “Because Russia is a powerful nation, and has people with a strong race. They have also made considerable progress in science and nuclear [technology], and their scientists and their research have made great strides.” Khamenei predicted at the time that Russia would make considerable progress, and he turned out to be correct. The Russian economy has grown at an average annual rate of 4.7 percent since Putin took over in 2000.
Khamenei claimed that the Americans have the same plan for Iran, but that they cannot succeed because,
First, they [the Americans] said that Khatami is like Gorbachev, but he is not.
Second, Islam is unlike communism [in the Soviet Union]. Russian people did not believe in communism, but Iranian people believe in Islam.
Third, the Islamic Republic is not a proletarian dictatorship [in the Soviet Union mold] that did not have [true] elections for 70 years, Even Western democracies, such as those in France and the United States, are not as popular as the Islamic Republic.
Fourth, Iran is a unified and homogeneous nation, unlike the Soviet Union that was a collection of various nationalities that had been glued together.
Fifth, the Soviet Union lacked the type of supreme leadership [a reference to himself] that the Islamic Republic has. If it had, then, when a leader like Yeltsin entered power to accelerate the reforms in an irrational and abnormal way, with people’s support the supreme leader could have dismissed him.
Khamenei then warned Khatami about defining precisely what he means by reform. Otherwise, “The Americans will give the reforms the meaning that they like, as they did in the Soviet Union,” Khamenei warned, adding that the United States will use newspapers, films, books, clothes and symbols of Western culture, such as McDonald’s, to pursue its goal. He then issued his explicit instructions:
All parts of the bureaucracy must confront Yelstin-type reforms, and do not allow an ambitious, deceived and negligent leader to deviate the [reform] movement from its righteous path, as if it is a race [toward the end of the Islamic Republic].
Khamenei, acting as the Supreme Leader, did not allow Khatami to carry out his reforms, and now he has even been expelled from the power structure. Khatami’s image has been banned, and he is not allowed to speak in public, give interviews, cannot travel abroad, and has even been prevented from private gatherings on such occasions as weddings and funerals. Khamenei has treated similarly former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, two leaders of the Green Movement. Thus, he has demonstrated how he views the reformers.
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.
Akbar Ganji is an Iranian investigative journalist and dissident. He was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, and his writings are currently banned in Iran.
This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei.
Image: Khamenei inspects the Quran Putin gave him.

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