The Islamic Republic of Iran is on the verge of another geopolitical choice – reformists are dragging the country to the West, and the conservatives want rapprochement with Russia.
After Hassan Ruhani’s victory in the election of the Iranian president, it makes sense to analyze in more detail the situation in Iran and the future of Iranian-Russian relations. After all, the chosen course of foreign policy will depend not only on the situation inside Iran, but also on the future of the region.
At first glance, at the first term of Rukhani’s rule, relations with Russia improved. Numerous agreements were signed in different spheres. Iran together with Russia actively participates in peacekeeping operations in Syria. And on Saturday, May 27, during a telephone conversation between Rukhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin, he expressed confidence that the cooperation between the two countries would develop at an accelerated pace.
However, attempts are also being made to draw closer to the West, whose supporters are the reformists, who also placed their stakes on Rukhani. It should be noted that in the previous presidential elections, Rukhani was supported by the Supreme Leader of Iran – this was done in order to weaken the opposition Green Movement. Ruhani acted as a kind of spoiler to take the votes from the liberals and reformists. But this time the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei himself, called on not to vote for a pro-Western candidate, and this hint was obvious.
The statement of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jav Zarif last week that Iran will not buy planes from Russia can also be seen as an attempt to build a balance in international relations, where obvious advantages are given to Western countries.
After the death of a prominent liberal figure of Ayatollah Rafsajani in January 2017, it would seem that the position of reformist Westerners was greatly shaken. But the election results showed that the principals and conservatives following the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and criticizing the West control not all positions in the political system of Iran. The loss of Ibrahim Raisi also showed the cohesion of various liberal-minded groups in political circles, the media and business. For example, numerous Iranian media spread the myth that, with the victory of Raisi, the US war against Iran will necessarily start. And if the Ruhani campaign as a whole went under the guise of a policy of stability, then the goal of liberals is reform.
As for the United States, then, by and large, Washington is aiming at dismantling the ayatollah system in Iran as a whole, rather than supporting a certain candidate.
Of course, Raisi for the US is a more undesirable actor of big politics because of his work in previous posts, but Rukhani previously headed the National Security Committee in the Mejlis and was on the Supreme Council for National Security, so the formalities are enough to continue the sanctions and blame Ruhani himself in numerous violations of human rights (as before, and now). Therefore, the pressure on Iran from the West will continue. The US Department of State’s plan has already begun to take effect. This is a reorganization of the US allies in the face of the countries of the region (what was done during Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel); Deterrence of Iran in Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia (ie in countries where the Shiite population lives); The introduction of new sanctions for testing ballistic missiles and human rights violations; The possible abandonment of a nuclear deal after the release of a special report by the State Department (expected in the second half of July).
How will operate in such a situation Ruhani is not yet known. Since his election campaign was more built on internal factors, it is more easy to predict his actions in domestic politics. This is a reorganization of the management of the oil sector; Curbing inflation; Reforming the banking sector on the basis of the European system; Fighting corruption; Improving the private sector and the business climate; Promotion of tourism; Completion of medical reform, according to which all Iranian citizens will be provided with medical insurance.
It should be taken into account that the main person of the state is the Supreme Leader of Iran – Ayatollah Khamenei, who occupies this post for life. The functions of the president of the country, rather representative, although he also forms the Cabinet, on which the direction of political vectors depends. After winning the election, Hasan Ruhani said that the government would “rejuvenate”. The candidacies of new ministers have not yet been named, but it is obvious that the reformists will try to nominate their proteges.
In addition, there is a system of certain counterbalances, which are effectively used by Iranian liberals both in domestic policy and in international relations.
Indicative in this respect is a collective letter from the leaders of Iranian state banks in support of Hasan Ruhani, which was sent to him immediately after the victory in the elections.
As in Russia, Iran’s financial and economic sector is associated with a liberal bloc. He is so strong that neither the Supreme Leader of Iran, nor the IRGC can resist him.
Taking advantage of the possibility of indirect support of their patron, the banks organized a kind of election campaign on the eve of the election – they issued loans totaling 175 trillion riyals (4.6 billion dollars) for 25,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. This was confirmed by the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiolah Seih. And since the creation of jobs and issues of domestic economy were the central theme of the election campaign for all candidates, this move clearly added votes in favor of Rukhani.
The significant interest of Iran’s banking sector in improving relations with the West is understandable, as the activity of Iranian banks is directly related to sanctions. It is obvious that with the next disconnection of Iran from the SWIFT system, the economic indicators will deteriorate. Therefore, bankers are interested in full access to international transactions that are controlled by the West.
Very important and indicative of the internal struggle between the reformers and the principals will be elections to the presiding council of the Mejlis (parliament), which are scheduled for May 31.
It is known that liberals want to get a majority in this body, which has 12 members. According to independent deputy Kazemat Jalali, the reformists do not want to compromise with the conservatives and even intend to remove the parliament speaker, former secretary of the National Security Council Ali Larijani, from his post. True, the faction of independent, rather, will enter into an alliance with the principals to form a majority and not to provoke a split. But such ostentatious confidence of the reformists demonstrates a clear tendency to escalate with the conservative faction.
It is obvious that as the influence of Western liberals increases, attempts will be made in Iran to reduce cooperation with Russia in all directions. But not only with Russia, but also with regard to the anti-Western strategy of Tehran as a whole, since to obtain certain promises from the West, Iran will have to give up geopolitical ambitions in the region.
In order to prevent such a scenario, Moscow should intensify its interaction through the power structures. A rather positive effect could be provided by the interaction of the National Guard of Russia and the Guard Corps of the Islamic Revolution, since both structures are accountable to the highest persons of the state. In parallel, the continuation of cooperation between military departments, intelligence and counterintelligence in the fight against international terrorism would contribute to the strengthening of trust between countries. Geostrategic projects, such as the North-South route, would add dynamics to the integration processes. In addition to the waterway along the Caspian Sea, the construction of the Astara (Iran) -Astara (Azerbaijan) section, which will connect Russia and Iran by rail, is now proceeding at an accelerated pace. Together with this, one should take into account the mood of the majority of the population of Iran – they are mostly pro-Russian. Therefore, the projects of people’s diplomacy could significantly expand and deepen Russian influence in Iran. And through Iran, Moscow will have the opportunity to act not directly in other countries of the region.