Iran Revokes Russia’s Use of Air Base, Saying Moscow «Betrayed Trust»


Iran Revokes Russia’s Use of Air Base, Saying Moscow «Betrayed Trust»

Эксперты МГИМО: Мизин Виктор Игоревич, к.ист.н.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran on Monday annulled permission for Russian planes to fly bombing runs into Syria from an Iranian base, only a week after having granted such extraordinary access, saying that the Kremlin had been unacceptably public and arrogant about the privilege.

The about-face and the explanation for it from Iran’s foreign and defense ministries appeared to reflect deep-seated and longstanding suspicions of Russia despite their tactical alliance in the Syria war.

The abruptness of the termination, even if temporary, also suggested that the Russians, eager to show widening influence in the Middle East, had seriously misread how a public announcement of their use of the Hamadan base in western Iran would reverberate among Iranians.

Russia state news media had been trumpeting the deal as a sign that its partnership with Iran was deepening. No foreign power has based forces in Iran since World War II.

In response to the annulment, the Russian military issued a statement saying its planes had already completed their missions.

«The Russian military aircraft involved in launching airstrikes from the Iranian Hamadan base against terrorist sites in Syria successfully accomplished the tasks they had set out to complete», Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. «All aircraft involved in this operation are now on Russian territory».

The agreement had seemingly marked a milestone for Russian foreign policy and a strengthening alliance with the region’s Shiite powers of Iran, Iraq and the government side in Syria’s civil war. And it would have allowed Russia to use greater firepower more easily in Syria, a new threat to opposition fighters.

It was not clear why the agreement appeared to unravel so soon, and experts and American officials cautioned that it remains to be verified via satellite images that Russia’s operations from Iran have stopped.

But Iran’s minister of defense, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, accused Russia of having publicized the deal excessively, calling the Kremlin’s behavior a «betrayal of trust» and «ungentlemanly». Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, told reporters in Tehran that the permission had been temporary and «it is finished, for now».

Maziar Behrooz, a history professor at San Francisco State University and an expert on Iran-Russia relations, said Iran’s withdrawal of permission, at the very least, signaled «a lack of coordination between the Iranians and Russians» over how — or even whether — the deal would remain secret.

«The Russians went public with this without assuring adequate sensitivities to Iran’s internal dynamics, in order to perhaps score a point and boost their prestige», Mr. Behrooz said. «If the Russians hadn’t exposed this, no problem would have arisen».

It was only the latest in a series of ups and downs in the important but often uncomfortable relationship between Iran and Russia regarding the Syria war. Both sides have signaled they do not expect to agree on every issue. Their strategic collaboration is not considered under threat.

But the perceived Russian arrogance may have been a step too far for Iranian sensitivities since the Russian takeover, nearly a year ago, of Iran’s role as the Syrian government’s leading ally.

The Russians have deployed formidable air power since September to help the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who had been ceding ground. Iran and its militia allies still bear the brunt of the casualties as Russia has few troops on the ground.

Iran and Russia share major goals, chiefly preventing the ouster of President Assad by force. And they each have a stake in battling Islamist extremists they see as threats to their own security.

But they have very different approaches, roles, and long-term visions.

Russia’s priority is to block what it sees as Western-engineered regime change, part of its policy of opposing interference in any country’s internal affairs, and to preserve Syrian state institutions. It has signaled that it is not wedded to Mr. Assad’s long-term rule.

Iran appears more focused on preserving and expanding its projection of power into the Middle East through relationships with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, other Shiite militias and with Mr. Assad, who has long guaranteed Hezbollah an arms supply route from Iran and belongs to the Alawite sect, a branch of Shiite Islam, the dominant faith in Iran.

At the same time, Iran fueled the growth of Syrian pro-government militias, preferring to work with them. Since jumping into the conflict at a point where Iran seemed unable to keep Mr. Assad from faltering, Russia has tried to integrate these militias into the army.

Iran and Russia face challenges collaborating in the field. Hezbollah fighters and supporters openly disdain the Syrian Army, and grumble that Russia has not given air support to its fighters. And Russian officials feel more comfortable dealing with Syrian Army commanders — many of them educated in Russia — than with the Shiite religious trappings of the militias.

Russia and Iran also differ sharply on Israel. Iran and Israel see each other as irreconcilable enemies, while Russia maintains close relations with Israel, home to a million Russian emigrants.

Then there is Iran’s long memory of the Russian empire battling the Persian Empire and gobbling up its periphery. To Iran, with its millennia-old national identity, it was not that long ago that the Russians were the enemy, fighting for control of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

«Russia is not trusted. They just don’t trust each other», said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based political risk consultancy. Russia’s flaunting of its Iran base privilege, he said, «was just too much for Iranian domestic politics to bear».

With a history of meddling by Western powers, notably Britain, Iran guards its sovereignty closely.

After Russia’s Tupolev and Sukhoi bombers started flying last week, Iranian members of Parliament said the agreement might be in violation of the Constitution.

«We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay», General Dehghan said. The two countries had «no written agreement» for use of the base, he said, adding that it was only a temporary agreement on refueling.

Russia announced what it described as a deal to use the Iranian base on Aug. 16, saying it would shorten the distance flown by long-range bombers, which had been flying from southern Russia.

A Russian analyst of the Middle East, Yuri Barmin, posted on Twitter that it was clear the base was «a temporary arrangement due to logistical difficulties» but added that the termination «was too quick».

Victor Mizin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russia’s university for diplomats, said the symbolism of the air base deal had been important in Moscow.

«The message was a continuation of what Russia started in Syria», Mr. Mizin said, «which is saying that Russia has returned to the status of a great power, like the Soviet Union, only without the ideology».

Andrew E. KRAMER

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Источник: The New York Times
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