Russia-Iran Military Cooperation Agreement – Step Ahead to Strategic Cooperation

Russia-Iran Military Cooperation Agreement – Step Ahead to Strategic Cooperation

Russia and Iran have signed a military agreement. This is the first time an inter-governmental military cooperation agreement has been concluded in the centuries-old history of bilateral relations. 

The military will intensify the exchange of delegations, conduct joint staff exercises and organize training courses, coordinate the fight against terrorism and cooperate in peacekeeping operations. All these plans are stated by the agreement. This time it’s not some memorandum of intentions – a kind of document Iran easily agrees to sign as it is legally non-binding. For instance, that’s what happened with some economic and trade accords Russia and Iran have signed during the two years of Hassan Rouhani’s tenure of office. 

On August 5, 2014 a five-year memorandum of understanding on wider economic cooperation, including the $20 billion oil-for-goods deal, was signed by Russia and Iran. A breakthrough in bilateral trade was expected. The US threats did not prevent Moscow from signing the deal. Dmitry Peskov, the press spokesman for the President of the Russian Federation, said then that possible US sanctions against Russia are not a constraint for Moscow to cooperate with other countries, including Iran. «The US threatens sanctions for practically anything Russia does; this is not a restraining factor», Peskov said back then

Russia is ready to build new and modernize old Iranian energy generating facilities, cooperate in oil and gas sector and start industrial equipment supplies, but there are no practical steps to start the process as yet. Agriculture cooperation is intensely discussed. A lot of intentions are declared but there are few deeds. Iranian farmers appear to put up with the fact that their production grown in 2014 will not get to Russian markets. Customs, standards, insurance and easing the visa regime – all these issues remain unresolved. It looks more like running on the spot than steady progress. Nothing will be done in practice till the bureaucrats of the both countries finally agree on the details. The risk is high enough to prevent Iranian business structures from starting agricultural supplies to Russia. Large companies of the both countries with close ties to the governments avoid risks and are not in a hurry to implement the concluded oil and gas agreements.

In the overall context of Russia-Iran relations, there is no reason to dramatize the situation with the S-300 air defense system deal. The Iranian legal action looks more like an instrument of commercial pressure. Iranian Aerospace Industries Organization is a claimant. Russian Rosoboronexport is a defendant. Actually it’s a litigation case between two business operators considered by an international court. It would be logical if Iranians called their claim back and signed a new contract to take into consideration all the details previously agreed on by experts. But even here, the parties are in no rush as the US sanctions restricting military cooperation with Iran are still not lifted. These are not US unilateral actions. The decision on suspending the contract was taken by Russia in accordance with the UN resolution N 1929 of June 9, 2010. The document bans major weapons and military equipment supplies to Iran, including missile systems. On conventional arms ban the resolution says «States are prohibited from selling or in any way transferring to Iran eight broad categories of heavy weapons (battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems). States are similarly prohibited from providing technical or financial assistance for such systems, or spare parts. States are also to exercise vigilance and restraint in supplying any other arms or related materiel to Iran». Moscow is not the only Iran’s partner to comply. China is another Iran’s traditional partner in military cooperation. It has achieved great success selling its weapons around the world. It also does not risk breaching the UN resolution that it supported along with Moscow.

No doubt the defense ministers of Russia and Iran discussed the ways to push through the S-300 deal and do away with the snags on the way of developing military ties. Let me remember the Russia-Egypt military cooperation intensified after the Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Egypt in November 2013. Only in February 2014 it became known that Moscow and Cairo signed a 3, 5 billion arms deal, including the supplies of helicopters, aircraft, and air defense systems (all the details are still not known). The air defense systems are already in Egypt. According to Western experts, Egyptians have used Buk M2 system during exercises.

Military cooperation is incompatible with bustling around and making loud statements. Many billion contracts are concluded after many years of hard work. A lot depends on international situation. The Russian and Iranian military may find it premature to resume full-fledged cooperation. Iran is still interested in acquisition of up-to-date military equipment from Russia, including S-300 or even more contemporary systems. For instance, on July 18, 2014 Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai said that Tehran believes the contract is still valid and hopes to receive from the Russian S-300 or a more modern system. The military agreement just signed gives Iran some advantages in buying Russia-made weapons. Like other arms exporters Russia uses military cooperation not for commercial profit only but also for increasing its clout in some regions of the world. For instance, by the end of the 1990s Russia concluded an agreement with India on SU-30 MKI deliveries. SU-30MKI is the most updated modification. China receives less modern versions of the plane. In the days of the Soviet Union India was sold MiG-29s which were not in the inventory of the Warsaw Pact member-states at the time.

During the visit to Tehran Shoigu invited its Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan to pay an official visit to Moscow. "I invited General Dehghan to visit the Russian Federation and participate in the 4-th Moscow conference on international security, which will be held in early April 2015," - he said. According to the Minister, the dialogue with Tehran will be continued during the Russia’s term as chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The US administration is still «studying» information about Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to Tehran. «The United States has seen the news about the meetings in Iran between Russian and Iranian government officials to discuss military cooperation and possible agreements. Now it is studying reports about these meetings», a US State Department official told TASS agency on condition of anonymity. The US had previously made it clear that it objects to any sale of the S-300 system to Iran, the official added. These objections are still in force. 

Americans have still not realized that Moscow and Tehran have a solid base for achieving progress in military cooperation. It’s the first and only military cooperation agreement concluded by Iran with another country. It’s much more important for Iran than the implementation of the obsolete S-300 contract, something the US is concerned about so much. The US has not learned the lesson that Russia taught it by developing military ties with Egypt.