Relations between the Russian Empire and the Persian Empire (pre-1935 Iran), officially commenced in 1521, with the Safavids in power. Past and present contact between Russia and Iran has long been complicatedly multi-faceted; often wavering between collaboration and rivalry. The two nations have a long history of geographic, economic, and socio-political interaction. Since then, mutual relations have been turbulent often, and dormant at others. Most recently, Iran presents Russia with another country through which it can continue its policy of Western obstructionism, as it has done similarly in countries like Venezuela and Syria, by playing the rolls of both an economic partner and a military benefactor to a country under severe sanctions by much of the Western world.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the two neighboring nations have generally enjoyed very close cordial relations. Iran and Russia are strategic allies and form an axis in the Caucasus alongside Armenia. Due to Western economic sanctions on Iran, Russia has become a key trading partner, especially in regard to the former's excess oil reserves. Militarily, Iran is the only country in Western Asia that has been invited to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russia's own international treaty organization in response to NATO, while much of the Iranian military consists of Russian weaponry. Iran has its embassy in Moscow and consulates in the cities of Astrakhan and Kazan. Russia has its embassy in Tehran, and consulates in Rasht and Isfahan.
History of Iran-Russia relations
Contacts between Russians and Persians have a long history. There were known commercial exchanges as early as the 8th century AD between Persia and Russia. They were interrupted by the Mongol invasions in the 13th and 14th centuries but started up again in the 15th century with the rise of the state of Muscovy. In the 9th-11th century AD, there were repetitively military raids undertaken by the Rus' between 864 and 1041 on the Caspian Sea shores of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Dagestan as part of the Caspian expeditions of the Rus'. Initially, the Rus' appeared in Serkland in the 9th century traveling as merchants along the Volga trade route, selling furs, honey, and slaves. The first small-scale raids took place in the late 9th and early 10th century. The Rus' undertook the first large-scale expedition in 913; having arrived on 500 ships, they pillaged Gorgan, in the territory of present day Iran, and the adjacent areas, taking slaves and goods.
Safavid Persia-Russian Empire
It was not until the 16th century that formal diplomatic contacts were established between Persia and Russia, with the latter acting as an intermediary in the trade between Britain and Persia. Transporting goods across Russian territory meant that the British could avoid the zones under Ottoman and Portuguese control. The Muscovy Company (also known as the Russian Company) was founded in 1553 to expand the trade routes across the Caspian sea. Moscow's role as an intermediary in exchanges between Britain and Persia led Russian traders to set up business in urban centres across Persia, as far south as Kashan. Though these commercial exchanges in the latter half of the 16th century were limited in scope, they nonetheless indicate that the fledgling entente between the two countries emerged as a result of opposition to the neighboring Ottoman Empire.
Diplomatic relations between Russia and Iran date back to 1521, when the Safavid Shah Ismail I sent an emissary to visit the Czar Vasili III. As the first diplomatic contacts between the two countries was being established, Shah Ismail was also working hard with the aim of joining forces against their mutual enemy, namely neighboring Ottoman Turkey. On several occasions, Iran offered Russia a deal exchanging a part of its territory (for example Derbent and Baku in 1586) for its support in its wars against their Ottoman arch rivals. In 1650, extensive contact between the two people, culminated in the Russo-Persian War (1651–53), after which Russia had to cede its footholds in the North Caucasus to the Safavids. In the 1660s the famous Russian Cossack ataman Stenka Razin raided, and occasionally wintered at, Persia's north coast, creating diplomatic problems for the Russian Czar in his dealings with the Persian Shah. The Russian song telling the tragic semi-legendary story of Razin's relationship with a Persian princess remains popular to this day.
Peace reigned for many decades between the two peoples after these conflicts, in which trade and migration of peoples flourished. The decline of the Safavid and Ottoman state saw the rise of Imperial Russia on the other hand. After the fall of Shah Sultan Husayn brought the Safavid dynasty to an end in 1722, the greatest threats facing Persia were Russian and Ottoman ambitions for territorial expansion in the Caspian region and north-western Persia specifically. During the Safavid period, Russian and Persian power was relatively evenly balanced. Following Shah Hussein's fall, the relationship lost its symmetry, however it was largerly restored under Nader Shah.
In his later years of rule, Peter the Great found himself in a strong enough position to increase Russian influence more southwards in the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea at the cost of the two declining empires; the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire. He made the city of Astrakhan his base for his hostilities against Persia, created a shipyard, and attacked the weakened Safavids in the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723), capturing many of its territories in the Caucasus and northern Iran for several years. After several minor years of political chaos in Persia following the abolishment of the Safavids, a new mighty Persian empire was born under the military genius of fortune, Nader Shah. Fearing a costly war which would most likely be lost against Nader and also being flanked by the Turks in the west, the Russians were forced to give back all territories and retreat from the entire Caucasus as according to the Treaty of Resht under Anna of Russia. The term of the treaty also included the first fact of close Russo-Iranian collaboration against a common enemy, in this case the Ottoman Turks.
Qajar Persia-Russian Empire
Irano-Russian relations particularly picked up again following the death of Nader Shah and the dissolution of his Afsharid Dynasty which gave eventually way to the Qajarid dynasty in the mid-18th century. The first Qajar Persian Ambassador to Russia was Mirza Abolhassan Khan Ilchi. After the effective and firm rule of Agha Mohammad Khan, who stabilized the nation, and reconquered all regions in the Caucasus, the Qajarid government was quickly absorbed with managing domestic turmoil, while rival colonial powers rapidly sought a stable foothold in the region. While the Portuguese, British, and Dutch competed for the south and southeast of Persia in the Persian Gulf, the Russian Empire largely was left unchallenged in the north as it plunged southward to establish dominance in Persia's northern territories, nowadays Dagestan, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. more. Plagued with internal politics, the Qajarid government found itself incapable of rising to the challenge of facing its northern threat from Russia.
A weakened and bankrupted royal court, under Fath Ali Shah, was forced to sign the notorious and unfavourable Treaty of Gulistan following the outcome of the Russo-Persian war of 1804-13, irrevocably ceding Dagestan, Georgia, and large parts of Azerbaijan, followed by the Treaty of Turkmenchay as the outcome of the Russo-Persian War of 1826-28, losing modern day Armenia and all of Azerbaijan, after efforts and initial success by Abbas Mirza failed to ultimately secure Persia's northern front. By these two treaties, Iran had lost swaths of its integral territories that had made part of the concept of Iran for three centuries.
Anti-Russian sentiment was so high in Persia during that time that uprisings all over the country were created. The famous Russian intellectual, ambassador to Persia, and Alexander Pushkin's best friend, Alexander Griboyedov, got killed along with hundreds of Cossacks by angry mobs in Tehran during these uprisings. With the Russian Empire still continuously advancing south in the course of two wars against Persia, and the treaties of Turkmanchay and Golestan in the western frontiers, plus the unexpected death of Abbas Mirza in 1823, and the murder of Persia's Grand Vizier (Mirza AbolQasem Qa'im Maqām), Persia lost its traditional foothold in Central Asia as well to the Russian Tsarist armies. The Treaty of Akhal, in which the Qajarid's were forced to drop all claims on Central Asia and the ceding parts of what is now Turkmenistan, topped off Persian losses to the global emerging power of Imperial Russia.
By the end of the 19th century, the Russian Empire's dominance became so pronounced that Tabriz, Qazvin, and a host of other cities were occupied by Russia, and the central government in Tehran was left with no power to even select its own ministers without the approval of the Anglo-Russian consulates. Morgan Shuster, for example, had to resign under tremendous British and Russian pressure on the royal court. Shuster's book "The Strangling of Persia" is a recount of the details of these events, a harsh criticism of Britain and Imperial Russia. By this time, northern Iran was officially a sphere of influence of Imperial Russia. During the same time, many Russians settled in northern Iran.
In the same period, on proposal of the shah and in mutual interest of Russia, the Russians founded the Persian Cossack Brigade, which and who would prove to be pivotal and crucial in the next few decades to come in Iranian history, as well as in regard to Irano-Russian relations.
These, and a series of climaxing events such as the Russian shelling of Mashad's Goharshad Mosque in 1911, and the shelling of the Persian National Assembly by the Russian Colonel V. Liakhov, led to a surge in widespread anti-Russian sentiments across the nation.
Pahlavi-Soviet Union era
One result of the public outcry against the ubiquitous presence of Imperial Russia in Persia was the Constitutionalist movement of Gilan, which followed up the Persian Constitutional Revolution. Many participants of the revolution were Iranians educated in the Caucasus, direct émigrés (also called Caucasian muhajirs) from the Caucasus, as well as Armenians that at the same period were busy with establishing the Dashnaktsutyun party as well as operations directed against neighboring Ottoman Turkey. The rebellion in Gilan, headed by Mirza Kuchak Khan led to an eventual confrontation between the Iranian rebels and the Russian army, but was disrupted with the October Revolution in 1917.
As a result of the October Revolution thousands of Russians fled the country for the Bolsheviks including many to Persia. Many of these refugees settled in northern Persia creating their own communities of which many of their descendants still linger across the country. Some notable descendants of these Russian refugees in Persia include the political activist and writer Marina Nemat and the former general and deputy chief of the Imperial Iranian Air Force Nader Jahanbani, whose mother was a White émigré.
Russian involvement however continued on with the establishment of the short-lived Persian Socialist Soviet Republic in 1920, supported by Azeri and Caucasian Bolshevik leaders. After the fall of this republic, in late 1921, political and economic relations were renewed. In the 1920s, trade between the Soviet Union and Persia reached again important levels. Baku played a particularly significant role as the venue for a trade fair between the USSR and the Middle East, notably Persia.
- "Begin preparatory work to form a national autonomous Azerbaijan district with broad powers within the Iranian state and simultaneously develop separatist movements in the provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran, Gorgan, and Khorasan".
In 1945-1946, Soviet leaders supported the Republic of Mahabad, their last effort by Soviet Russia to establish a communist republic in Iran. The end of World War Two brought the start of American dominance in Iran's political arena, and with an anti-Soviet Cold War brewing, the United States quickly moved to convert Iran into an anti-communist block, thus ending Russia's influence on Iran for years to come. This period culminated in 1946, with the Iran crisis of 1946.
The Soviet Union was the first state to recognize the Islamic republic in February 1979. During the Iran–Iraq War, it supplied Saddam Hussein with large amounts of conventional arms. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini deemed Islam principally incompatible with the communist ideals (as such atheism) of the Soviet Union, leaving the secular Saddam as an ally of Moscow.
After the war, especially with the fall of the USSR, Tehran-Moscow relations witnessed a sudden increase in diplomatic and commercial relations, and Iran soon even began purchasing weapons from Russia.
As confrontation between the United States and Iran escalates, the country is finding itself further pushed into an alliance with China and Russia. And Iran, like Russia, "views Turkey's regional ambitions and the possible spread of some form of pan-Turkic ideology with suspicion".
Russia and Iran also share a common interest in limiting the political influence of the United States in Central Asia. This common interest has led the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to extend to Iran observer status in 2005, and offer full membership in 2006. Iran's relations with the organization, which is dominated by Russia and China, represents the most extensive diplomatic ties Iran has shared since the 1979 revolution. Iran and Russia have co-founded the Gas Exporting Countries Forum along with Qatar.
Unlike previous years in which Iran's air fleet were entirely western made, Iran's Air Force and civilian air fleet are increasingly becoming domestically and Russian built as the US and Europe continue to maintain sanctions on Iran. In 2010, Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment led the UN to pass a new resolution, number 1929 to vote for new sanctions against Iran which bans the sale of all types of heavy weaponry (including missiles) to Iran. This resulted in the cancellation of the delivery of the S-300 system to Iran: In September 2010 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a decree banning the delivery of S-300 missile systems, armored vehicles, warplanes, helicopters and ships to Iran. This may cause the loss of $13 billion in arms sales to Iran and force Iran to depend on China for arms in the future according to Igor Korotchenko. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also criticised Russia for kowtowing to the United States. As a result of the cancellation, Iran brought suit against Russia in Swiss court and in response to the lawsuit Russia threatened to withdraw diplomatic support for Iran in the nuclear dispute.
In addition to their trade and cooperation in hydrocarbons, Iran and Russia have also expanded trade ties in many non-energy sectors of the economy, including a large agriculture agreement in January 2009 and a telecommunications contract in December 2008. In July 2010, Iran and Russia signed an agreement to increase their cooperation in developing their energy sectors. Features of the agreement include the establishment of a joint oil exchange, which with a combined production of up to 15 million barrels of oil per day has the potential to become a leading market globally. Gazprom and Lukoil have become increasingly involved in the development of Iranian oil and gas projects.
In 2005, Russia was the seventh largest trading partner of Iran, with 5.33% of all exports to Iran originating from Russia. Trade relations between the two increased from US$1 billion in 2005 to $3.7 billion in 2008. Motor vehicles, fruits, vegetables, glass, textiles, plastics, chemicals, hand-woven carpet, stone and plaster products were among the main Iranian non-oil goods exported to Russia. According Reuters (Wed Apr 2, 2014), Iran and Russia have made progress towards an oil for goods deal sources said would be worth up to $20 billion.
According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 86% of Russians view Iran's influence positively, with 40% expressing a negative view. Gallup poll from the end of 2013 showed Iran ranked as sixth greatest threat to peace in the World according Russian view (3%), after United States (54%), China (6%), Iraq (5%), Syria (5%) and their own Russia (3%).
- Gas Exporting Countries Forum
- Non-Aligned Movement
- Russo-Persian Wars
- Persian Cossack Brigade
- Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 in which Persia was proposed to be partitioned
- Sanctions on Iran
- Treaty of Gulistan
- Treaty of Turkmenchay
- Russians in Iran
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Iran–Russia relations.|
- Gorbachev and Iran from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
- World Press Review: Bear Hugs, Iran-Russian relations
- Russian-Iranian Relations: Functional Dysfunction