Tehran, Iran – While Iran says it opposes war in Ukraine, it will not outright denounce Russia’s military operation, instead blaming the West for NATO’s presence in the region.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in his first reaction Thursday after Russia invaded Ukraine that the crisis is “rooted in NATO provocations”.
He tweeted that Iran does not see war as a solution and called for an immediate ceasefire and a “political and democratic solution” without using words like “invasion” to describe the situation.
In a similar but slightly longer statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh added that “the Eurasian region is on the verge of entering a generalized crisis” due to NATO moves. led by the United States.
This was in line with several other Iranian Foreign Ministry statements issued in recent weeks, while senior officials such as President Ebrahim Raisi refrained from commenting.
The reasons for this approach can be traced to Iran’s ties with Russia over the past decades, its increasingly strained relationship with the West and developments in the Middle East.
Model of several decades
According to Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting scholar at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the evolution of Iranian-Russian relations over the past decades shows a pattern of Iran’s reaction to Russia’s military actions in its immediate vicinity. .
“Generally speaking, Iran never condemns Russia’s foreign aggressions, but at the same time, also never recognizes territories that Moscow controls,” Azizi told Al Jazeera.
“This is what we witnessed in the 2008 Georgia war, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and now eastern Ukraine.”
Azizi said Iran counted on Russia’s support on the international stage, given growing hostilities between Tehran and the West over a range of issues, including its nuclear program and regional influence.
Moreover, he said, Iran’s ties with Russia have grown particularly strong over the past decade, and Tehran does not wish to jeopardize those prospects.
More recently, the Iranian president was in Moscow last month for a two-day visit, during which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed support for closer ties.
Iran wants to increase bilateral trade to at least $10 billion from its current level of around $3.5 billion in the foreseeable future, looks to Russian aid to complete a nuclear power plant project in Hormozgan and is in the process of renewing a 20-year comprehensive cooperation agreement that expired last year.
Not to mention the potential for regional cooperation between the two countries, particularly in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.
This is when Iran’s relations with Ukraine were significantly affected in early 2020, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight over Tehran in confusion. of a missile attack against two American bases in Iraq a few hours earlier.
Iran said the incident was caused by “human error” and held several rounds of talks with Kiev, but Ukraine and four other countries that lost citizens on the flight accused Tehran of refusing to agree. engage in meaningful dialogue, promising to pursue the matter. by international law.
Iran’s approach to the Ukraine crisis also has local dimensions, Azizi said.
He said Iranian leaders support Russia’s anti-Western rhetoric and see it as an indication of the West’s decline.
“In the same vein, there is a message to the more pro-Western parts of Iranian society and politics, as well as to the general public, that the West and leave their partners when their help is most needed,” he said.
On the other hand, Azizi said Iran does not categorically support Russia’s military campaigns because it could one day be used against itself in some of its border provinces where secessionist sentiments have existed.
“In other words, Iran continues to adhere to the principle of territorial integrity and national sovereignty,” he said.
West vs East – Vienna Talks
The significant escalation of the Ukraine crisis comes as back-to-back talks in Vienna to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have entered their “final stage”, diplomats say.
In 2018, the United States unilaterally abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the agreement is officially known, imposing severe sanctions. In response, Tehran has since 2019 significantly advanced its nuclear program while keeping it strictly peaceful.
Seyed Mostafa Khoshcheshm, a Tehran-based Iranian affairs analyst who is currently focusing on the Vienna talks, said the war in Ukraine had just started and more time would be needed to directly affect the talks in the Austrian capital.
But he told Al Jazeera that Ukraine and the JCPOA are security issues and “crises that were manufactured by the United States.”
“It looks like this will ultimately lead to Russia moving closer to Iran and extending its support for Iran,” Khoshcheshm said, adding that this could include closer economic cooperation despite US sanctions, since Russia is now heavily sanctioned by the West.
The analyst said the Ukraine crisis could also lead to closer security and military cooperation between Iran and Russia, especially in Syria. He pointed out that Israel has built strong ties with Russia, but its Western bloc support for Ukraine could put that at risk.
“At the same time, the case of Ukraine could mean that the United States would be weaker and more likely to give concessions to Vienna, because its power is in decline – the manifestation of which we saw in its exit from Afghanistan and its gradual withdrawal from the region,” Khoshcheshm said.
“It’s not the same United States of the 1980s and 1990s that could fight on multiple fronts,” he said, stressing that the United States should also be concerned that Russia’s advances would embolden the China to take similar action in Taiwan.
After nearly 10 months, the talks in Vienna are expected to produce results – or collapse – within days.
Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, returned to Tehran on Thursday to attend a session of the Supreme National Security Council, which is expected to take place on Saturday. In recent days, European delegations have also briefly visited their capitals for political consultations.
All parties said most issues were agreed in Vienna, but nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.