The Iranian nuclear deal: What’s in it for Moscow?
Washington - Many observers (including myself) have pointed out that the Iranian nuclear agreement could have negative consequences for Russia. The reduction of international economic sanctions against Iran means that more oil and gas will come onto the world market, which will lower petroleum prices and thus negatively affect Russia and other petroleum exporters.
In addition, if a broader Iranian rapprochement with the United States and the West occurs, Tehran will have less need for cooperation with Russia — and Iranians take a dim view of Russia anyway, given the two nations’ long contentious history.
Despite this, Moscow can expect benefits from the Iranian nuclear agreement. These include:
Increased Russian exports of arms, nuclear reactors and other products to an Iran that will soon have more money to spend as well as more freedom to spend it due to the removal of sanctions;
Increased opportunities, also due to the removal of international sanctions against Iran, for Russian firms to invest in the Iranian petroleum sector;
The possibility of increased economic interaction with the Gulf Arab states that are annoyed with US President Barack Obama’s administration for signing off on the Iranian nuclear agreement and show their displeasure with Washington by buying Russian arms, nuclear reactors or other goods (Russia, of course, also approved the Iranian nuclear agreement but since the Gulf Arabs have far lower expectations of Russia, Moscow hopes they will overlook this);
The ability to more credibly argue, as Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has, that because an Iranian nuclear agreement has been achieved, US plans to deploy ballistic missile defences to Europe against a feared Iranian threat should be abandoned. Moscow has strenuously objected to the missile defence system and claims it really is aimed at Russia; and, possibly,
The hope that, because Russia supported the Iranian nuclear agreement despite increased tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine, Russia will be seen by some (if not all) Western governments as a “responsible actor” and help Moscow’s efforts to undermine the Western sanctions regime against it.
But in addition to these benefits that Moscow might obtain if the Iranian nuclear agreement goes forward, Russia is well positioned to benefit if it does not go forward — especially if it is rejected by the US Congress. If this happens, Iran, Russia and many other governments, including Western ones, will blame the United States — and not Iran — for the failure of the agreement. In that event, Russia stands to benefit in several ways, including:
Support for the international sanctions regime against Iran is likely to crumble if the United States is blamed for the failure of the agreement and American ties will deteriorate not just with Iran, but with many other countries;
To the extent that Western governments fall out with the United States over sanctions against Iran, this will undermine the Western alliance — something Moscow has long sought;
Western governments that fall out with Washington are likely to be more willing to abandon US-backed sanctions against Russia; and
Iranian willingness to turn to Russia for economic and military support will increase.
Some may point out that increased Russian support for Iran would tend to hurt Russia’s image in the Arab world. But if indeed the collapse of the Iranian nuclear accord would lead to improved Iranian-Russian ties, turmoil within the Western alliance and American isolation, Moscow may consider poorer relations with the Arab world a cheap price to pay for all this.
Besides, Moscow may calculate that if the Gulf Arabs in particular are worried about increased Russian support for Iran, then what they should do is turn to Russia for support to provide Moscow with an incentive to restrain Iranian behaviour in the region. Moscow would undoubtedly be willing then to serve as a mediator.
Whether the Obama administration will succeed in overcoming congressional objections to the Iranian nuclear accord is not clear. Russia, though, will attempt to benefit from either situation.
Moscow stands to gain much more if US Republicans block the agreement than if they do not. This ought to give Republicans pause to consider whether blocking the agreement is really in the United States’ interest. So far, though, they do not seem to be doing so.