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The School of International Regional Studies is a research and educational centre seeking to revive international regional studies as an academic discipline in Russia. The department’s world-class professors train the next generation of regional studies specialists while developing an increasingly prestigious research school.
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The meeting was organized and moderated by Professor Vera Vishnyakova, Head of the HSE School of International Regional Studies of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, among the invited experts of the meeting were Andrey Baklanov, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Studies section of the School of International Regional Studies of HSE University, Head of the International Affairs Department at the Federation Council of Russian Federal Assembly, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Association of Russian Diplomats; Farhat Ibragimov, Researcher at the UNESCO Chair State University of Management; Nikita Smagin, TASS News Agency correspondent in Iran, a non-resident expert at the Russian International Affairs Council; Adlan Margoev, Junior Researcher at the Center for the Middle East Study at MGIMO University; Aleksey Khlebnikov, the expert of Russian International Affairs Council.
To explicitly describe, how the Russian-Iranian partnership revealed in different zones in the Middle East professor Tazmini started with the quote of Dostoevsky: “Russia was a slave to Europe but a master in Asia”.
The research shows that Kremlin instrumentalizes Tehran as the leverage against the US and Europe. The degree of expansion and contraction of Russian-Iranian cooperation could be constrained by the US-Russian relations. The Russian-Iranian relations are inconsistent, wavering between cooperation, friction and detentions, there are asymmetries and common views from both sides, which arises a great academic discourse on are these two states partners or rivals. The expert noted that it is important to study how both countries perceive each other not only in geostrategic terms but in terms of common people. Nowadays, there is a trend to constant interrogation of the nature of the partnership, it is examined from the different dimensions from a random partnership to a strategic partnership, leaving the question open. Though, this makes the methodological aspect of the studies more complicated, which is usually limited to the balance of areas of cooperation and areas of contention.
However, professor Tazmini considers that the Moscow-Tehran relations cannot be studied in the pattern of contention-cooperation, especially if to look at the relations in the past two decades. The expert proposed to go deeper and study why despite many clashes these two countries remained allies. The reason is that many of the studies are compiled on the positivists and think tanks that have their political agendas and affiliation to certain parties. Many scholars suggest that Tehran is isolated and has no partners and therefore is cut of the international system. If to study history back to the XVIIth century, one may see the reasons for the existing mistrust. To emphasize the volatility of the partnership and to suggest that Russia is a weak partner and that Iran is likewise opportunistic, the partnership seems to be built “on the sand”, especially if to take into account Russia’s position towards Israel, “oil diplomacy” with Saudi Arabia and negotiations with Arab monarchies – all of them are used as the arguments that Russia will soon turn its back to Iran. For example, in post-war Syria, there are a lot of rumours that Russia and Iran are going to clash, or as professor Tazmini called it, “the marriage of convenience will become inconvenient”. The expert expects the clashes in the military field, but there is still a common thread that united the two countries despite the asymmetries in the policies and outlook.
Despite the geo-strategic and geo-economic pathways, the pattern of the partnership suggests that it was likely to be a strong one in the Middle East. It is vitally important now for Russia in its attempts to present its role as a constructive one, as opposed to the destructive role of the US. Russia is trying to become a manager in the international affairs system of the Middle East and therefore needs to stabilize its position in the region and for Iran, this partnership is a part of its security agendas, which makes the partnership relevant for both countries. It is important to understand how far the constrains of two parties can go, how constructive they are and how much the international community can rely on these two variables in the region.
In her research, the expert identified the connecting points for two states and came up with the idea that both of them have a very similar geopolitical worldview and similar narrative about the world order that is shaped by cultural civilizational peculiarities, normative values and similar discursive history of genealogy with the West. Therefore, there are deeper issues of convergence: the interests of the politicians that may clash on the top and deeper historical patterns on the bottom.
One of the important issues studied by the expert is the issue of terminology, while there is no defined description of the partnership, which questions its character. In the international documents, the relations between Russia and Iran are described as an alliance. But the experts state that these two countries have nothing to do with the military alliance or coalition in terms of exact definition. Therefore, it is important to use the most accurate term “alignment”, or even “dynamic alignment”. The alliance is used to describe a formal association of states on the use or non-use of the military in specified circumstances against the states out of the membership, but Russia-Iran partnership is not connected to the military aspect, thus it is more accurate to say that they are aligned meaning they have shared agreement on understanding one or more significant issue.
The expert argued that it is too simplistic to say that Russia and Iran are united in their foreign policy goals. There is a longstanding failure to appreciate the influence on foreign policies of the countries and the reasons behind their failure. The post-cold war order and American hegemony in the region have paved the way to the strategic partnership of Russia and Iran, while they both are anti-hegemonic and oppose the idea that a state or a consolidation of the states can impose a particular set of norms and values.
Since 1991 Russia has a lot to do with aligning with Iran. Though Russia showed wiliness to adapt to Western norms and institutions, the West decided to enlarge instead of to integrate with Russia, claiming that Russia is not willing to change its imperialistic mindset. From the perspective of Russia, the West failed to build a multipolar world, bringing Russia closer to Iran. Russia and Iran share the same pluralistic worldview with the position of an outsider of the international system, what brings them together. The idea of this cooperation is not to challenge the US but to create an alternative structure. Video is available to the link: https://youtu.be/-L2pYxyaXzg