The decade-long tenuous cooperation between Iran and Russia is now showing signs of breaking down. For reasons of national security, Russian authorities banned the studies of 17 Iranian postgraduates training in applied mechanics and automation control systems at St. Petersburg's Baltiyskiy Technological University.
The Russian Federal Service for Currency and Export Control canceled the studies, which may be related to missile development technologies, reported ITAR-Tass April 11.
Banning the Iranians' program of study illustrates an emerging rift in Iranian-Russian cooperation. Tehran is already looking west for foreign investment and oil markets. Without Moscow's cooperation, it may now look elsewhere � possibly China, India or even the West � for alternate sources of defense technologies and security relationships.
After the Cold War, Russia no longer posed a threat to Iran. Due to Russia's internal problems, its support for Iraq and the Central Asian states � which threatened Iran � dwindled. In the early 1990s, when Iran began reemerging from its isolation, it looked for help to modernize its defense capabilities. Because of the Islamic Revolution, it could not acquire the technology from the West and instead looked to Russia.
Today Iran and Russia officially maintain military cooperation agreements. But with the potential for a resumption of tensions between Iran and Iraq, as well as the security threat posed by Russia's reemerging interest in Afghanistan, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the cooperative agreements have become largely symbolic.
Russia's growing influence in all of Iran's neighbors may be causing Tehran increasing anxiety. Moscow recently solidified its military presence on Iran's northwestern border by signing a 25-year deal for a military base in Armenia. The two countries share joint military exercises, and Russia helps Armenia guard its borders against Iran and Turkey. Along Iran's eastern border, Russian involvement remains a focal point in its foreign policy. The Central Asian states � all former Soviet republics � have security agreements with Moscow, and Russia continues to station troops there.
On its western border, Iran's historical enemy Iraq is supported by Russia. Russian firms have signed lucrative oil deals with Baghdad in advance of an eventual lifting of U.N. sanctions. Iran would prefer Iraq to remain under sanctions and poor, thus incapable of rebuilding its military. Russia, on the other hand, has a vested interest in a wealthier Iraq. It desperately needs the $7 billion in Soviet-era debt Iraq owes to Moscow. Iran's recent interdiction of tankers smuggling Iraqi oil is likely irritating Moscow as well.
Russian involvement in Afghanistan presents yet another problem for Iran. The civil war between the ruling Taliban and the opposition Northern Alliance has been raging for years. Now Iran and Pakistan are engaged in efforts to bring the two warring parties together for peace talks. Although both Iran and Russia historically supported the Northern Alliance, now Iran has economic reasons for establishing a relative level of stability in the region. Russia's recent statements concerning Afghanistan could impede the negotiations.
Until now, Iran and Russia's relations have been cooperative. Iran buys Russian military equipment, and Russia helps Tehran build nuclear reactors. Maintaining those good relations, however, just became more difficult. Moscow has said it would continue technical, military and defense cooperation with Iran, but its actions indicate such cooperation may no longer exist.
If Moscow has reversed its policy and decided to cut Iran off from its missile technologies, while at the same time Russia's sphere of influence encircles Iran, Tehran will likely look elsewhere for its security needs. China and India, which both have missile programs, present two possibilities. Both countries have economic relations with Tehran. China has investments in Iran's oil and gas sector, and India is currently working on a plan to build a gas pipeline from Iran via Pakistan to India. Relations between the West and Tehran have also warmed recently. Several European countries have sent ministers to Tehran in order to examine investment possibilities. The United States recently lifted sanctions on Iranian luxury goods and praised the recent win of a reformist majority for parliament.
Russia's decision to renege on Iran may backfire. Emerging from its isolation, Iran turned to Russia in order to develop innovative technology. Now, with Russia backing off and Iran opening to foreign investment, other countries may find a closer relationship with Iran beneficial to countering growing Russian influence in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Interest of recognised US analysts to the Russian-Iranian relations is not accidental. Iran is a traditional opponent of the US. Currently Russia is important to the United States, as the worsening co-operation between Moscow and Teheran is advantageous to the U.S.A.
Why does Washington need this?
Earlier White House tried to restrict the Kremlin's influence on the region. The only economic arguments in this dispute were the two big projects, the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline and Baku-Ceykhan. Both of them are hanging in mid-air.
That is why the U.S.A. is shifting to a different policy. Instead of economic expansion, the U.S.A., understanding Russia has no levers to affect Central Asia, is going to establish a security zone. Yet it is impossible to manage without Russia, and Batkent proved this.
Before he left the post of the OSCE chairman, Knut Wolleback announced Central Asia might become worse than the Balkans were. Washington needs Moscow's help, yet that must not be Moscow connected with Teheran.
MOSCOW, Apr 14 (Interfax)
The Russian elected President, Vladimir Putin, highlights his foreign political priorities.
The geography of the tour was well-thought out and symbolic. From Moscow, Putin leaves for Minsk to negotiate with co-President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus is Russia's most reliable ally, and plans to create and strengthen the Union of Russia and Belarus are serious and long-term.
The second stop was London, the first outside the CIS. This is somehow understandable. Putin who met the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in St. Petersburg last month, confirmed Russia's desire to have the UK as its strategic partner in the West. This partner is supposed to play the role of a bridge to relations with other leading countries of the West, first of all with the U.S.A. There are some premises for the match: Putin and Blair are of the same age; the UK, with its experience in Ulster, understands better than other western countries the complexities of problems of terrorism and separatism. Hence if the UK criticises Russia's operations in Chechnya, it does this in a mostly reserved way. Finally, the third destination of the tour, is the Ukraine where Putin will not visit only Kiev, but also the Crimea, the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, along with President Leonid Kuchma.
�The Ukraine was and remains one of the foreign political priorities of Russia,� Interfax sources from the Kremlin underline. The thesis is indisputable, on the whole. But most probably the Ukraine happens to be in on the �prizes� of the Putin administration, and therefore the third place in the Russian President's schedule. Putin has make it clear: yes, the Ukraine is a priority, yet Moscow is not quite satisfied with the level and character of relations with Kiev. It is not a secret that after the USSR collapsed, several problems accumulated between Moscow and Kiev. Many of these problems are unsettled, and even developing from year to year.
On Saturday the US State Secretary, Madeleine Albright visited Astana. Despite all criticisms perhaps it is not a bad thing to have two capitals: when there is a lot of fuss going on in one of them, guests can to get their work done in the other capital. Members of the opposition, some opposition newspapers greatly hoped for the visit of the US "Number Two" to help draw attention to their �torments�. Some national newspapers said economic interests prevailed over political ones in the visit of Madeleine Albright. Representatives of the Kazakhstani political elite met the State Secretary late at Saturday night. Here is what one of the leaders of the Forum of Kazakhstani Democratic Forces, Gaziz Aldamzharov, said to Radio Liberty right after the meeting:
- In principle, we expected such an outcome. We may talk about both issues with satisfaction. Madeleine Albright said that in May the National dialogue with participation of the third party would be held. Secondly, they raised the question of establishing an independent publishing house for the independent press. Representatives of parties close to the authorities said democracy was slowly developing in Kazakhstan and that it was not hastening in its development. They excused the mistakes on the way to this aim. Some of them criticised the well-known estimations by the US State Department and the OSCE.
The visit of Madeleine Albright to Kazakhstan is now a subject for political analyses. Before the event, some statesmen blamed each other either for extra maxim in respect to Washington or for submitting false information to White House.
Meanwhile, the President of neighbouring Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, is preparing for an official visit to Moscow, where he will meet the new Russian President, Vladimir Putin. For the being Kazakhstan cannot recover from the hullabaloo, and Uzbekistan is establishing active relations with the Russian Federation.
THE GLOBE based on materials from the Kazakh Service of Radio Liberty
(Translated from Kazakh by THE GLOBE, full text)
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