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Iran’s Increasing Cooperation on the Eurasian Union; Internal Obstacles to Union’s Creation

OE Watch Commentary: In February 2013 the Iranian Foreign Ministry organized a two-day seminar in Teheran entitled, “Iran and Regional Cooperation in Eurasia.”1 Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi spoke at the event. According to the accompanying articles, he indicated Iran’s interest in joining the Russia-led Eurasian Union and spoke of Iran’s usefulness to the development and expansion of “Eurasianism.” Mainstream media both in the West and in Russia had not reported on this statement. It is worth considering.
In January 2010 Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus formed a Customs Union. The Russian leadership intends it to be a precursor to the Eurasian Union—a Eurasian alliance of former Soviet states which many analysts and experts believe would allow Russia to control these states economically and put the Union in a position to counterbalance the European Union and the West.2 The idea of Iran joining the Eurasian Union raises eyebrows. Iran is not a former Soviet state and does not fit with what many analysts believe to be the Kremlin’s aim of controlling, through the Eurasian Union, Russia’s so-called “near abroad” –which it considers Russia’s “privileged sphere of influence.”The Kremlin tends to see Iran as more of an equal.
Yet Iran is also among Russia’s biggest allies in Eurasia and beyond, and both countries’ leaders see themselves in geostrategic terms as opposing Washington. Russia and Iran have a long and complicated history of relations, which has vacillated between competition and cooperation. In recent years they increased cooperation, particularly after Russian President Vladimir Putin assumed a third term as Russia’s President in May 2012. One way to look at Salehi’s statement is as further evidence of increasing Iran-Russia ties.
The first article is an interview with Center for the Study of Modern Iran director Rajab Safarov, who discusses Salehi’s statement with Russian information agency Nakanune.ru (The Day Before). The second article is by Denis Dvornikov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber, Prominent civil society organizations in Russia and the U.S. have a negative opinion about the Chamber. which was established in December 2005 with the official goal of including civil society in government decision making. Freedom House, for example, described it as a “hollow institution that imitates real mechanisms for social oversight.”3
Both Safarov and Dvornikov are sure that Salehi’s statement is a clear declaration of Iran’s wish to join the Eurasian Union—an idea they support. Among their reasons is, as Dvornikov suggests, having a member as strong as Iran would shield the Union from criticism that it is dominated by Russia. Also, Iran supports a structure that would economically counterbalance the West.
Although many Western critics have been vocal against the Eurasian Union, both Safarov and Dvornikov interestingly stress that the main impediment to creation of the Eurasian Union is internal—pro-Western elites and mid-level bureaucrats, primarily in Russia but also in Kazakhstan. Both speak about the necessity of clamping down on these voices to help the Union succeed. Safarov in particular speaks in Stalinesque terms, of “strong will and fist on the table,” and even suggests arresting officials who are opposed to the Union.
These two articles provide an important Russian view on Eurasian integration issues facing Russia and Iran’s role in this process. End OE Watch Commentary (Borshchevskaya)

Source: Ivan Zuev, “Иран просится в Евразийский союз, но его созданию “мешают прозападные бюрократии России и Казахстана” (Iran is asking to joining the Eurasian Union, but “Russia’s and Kazakahstan’s pro-Western bureaucracies interfere with its creation,” Nakanune.ru (The Day Before), 20 March 2013. http://www.nakanune.ru/articles/17576
Iran is asking to join the Eurasian Union, but “Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s pro-Western bureaucracies interfere with its creation.”
Earlier, the Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi spoke in sufficiently complementary terms about Eurasian cooperation and its importance for the entire region, saying that Iran could be very useful to the development and expansion of “Eurasianism.” This event has passed virtually unnoticed, at least major Russian media simply ignored it. Meanwhile, according to the director of the Center for the Study of Modern Iran Rajab Safarov, Iran has in essence stated its position and a wish to join the Eurasian Union. However, in his opinion, the development of integration ideas of Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev is more hampered not consent (or, on the contrary, disagreement) of neighbors in the region, but their own pro-Western elites….
Rajab Safarov: Iran is interested in creating a multipolar world and any initiative in this direction, of course, would be welcome. Currently, there are no poles that could seriously limit the U.S., so Putin’s idea of creating the Eurasian community of countries seems highly relevant to those who want more justice and reduction of hegemony of one country. Of course, this idea Iran saw this structure. Putin’s idea is extremely attractive for Iran, but, in any case, Iran clearly wants to find out for itself in what direction will all of this be developing. Frankly…the idea of creating the Eurasian Union is flagging. I must admit that it was either completely unrealistic, only a political slogan or a pre-election move od Vladimir Putin, or in fact, this idea encountered some problems, of which are many. Chief among them - “attention” from the West…
…It seems to me, this process is flagging not because Putin does not want it; sabotage is on the middle level of bureaucracy. Officials have thousands of links with the West and the Russian bureaucracy is part of the world of bureaucracy, so it delays pulls creation [of the Eurasian Union].
Question: What is the economic advantage of entering Eurasian Union for Iran?
Rajab Safarov: Iran has the second largest gas reserves in the world and is the world’s fourth largest oil exporter; these two factors are already key, if the integration process will be carried out in the formula Putin proposed. These states may develop in the direction of creating favorable conditions for consumers of raw materials in this union, which will provide such rate of development, which would be seriously higher than the world’s, not to mention an increase in living standards, which in turn will affect the level of international influence in addressing external issues. That’s what many are afraid of. All the more so because Iran’s potential is enormous. Given its geographic location, given its role the key country in the Islamic world - all this gives a huge trump card to Russia, other members Eurasian Union members, China to affect the entire Islamic world. Without Iran it’s impossible to reach such level of influence. Moreover, the country is absolutely self-sufficient and can itself become a driving force for countries of the Union….
Question: However, can we say that Iranian Foreign Minister’s statement is an official request to join in Eurasian Union?
Rajab Safarov: In a country such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, any idea, and especially one about participation in integration processes - it is an agreed-upon position, especially as foreign minister – is a key figure of power in Iran, and in no case can this figure allow to act on its own initiative at this level. And yes, this means that it is the position of the Republic. Iran is ready for integration processes….
But the issue is not that Iran is declaring anything…many suffer from this shameless interference in internal affairs. To eliminate this dictation…a strong structure should be created… These people sit in positions of deputy ministers, directors of departments… and so on, and they come up with sufficiently reasoned arguments that delay the process for a long time. ..and the bureaucracy comes up with thousands of reasons, motives and bases s to sabotage these ideas. Any obstacle in the country to the ideas of the Eurasian integration - this is an order. To overcome this, you need a strong will, a fist on the table, “by such-and such date find a solution, you have no other tasks, otherwise— arrest.”
Source: “Денис Дворников: Иран готов стать вторым естественным полюсом Евразийского Союза” (Denis Dvornikov: Iran is ready to become the second natural pole of the Eurasian Union,” Блог Резы Саджади (Reza Sadzhadi blog), 1 April, 2013. http://sajjadi.livejournal.com/237600.html
Denis Dvornikov: Iran is ready to become the second natural pole of the Eurasian Union
The still virtual project named the “Eurasian Union,” is viewed by official Tehran not only as a potential strategic partnera, but also as the most desirable form of geopolitical integration for the Islamic republic into the system of new international institutions. At a recent conference about Eurasian issues, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that the “Eurasian cooperation is gaining a doubled meaning, and its formation can increase the contribution of this region’s countries to shaping the world of tomorrow and to ensure the interests of the region.” Today, Iran’s foreign policy establishments are actively studying the possible scenarios of participation of their country in this new construct. In fact, Iran is ready to become the second natural pole of the Eurasian Union, who will take not only the benefits of the opened markets, but also the difficulties of organizational and financial costs for the first and subsequent stages of creating the new entity, a project that has already caused not just criticism, and open aggression on the part of some Russia’s Western partners….
Internal political provocation - these are the main risks for our country in the process of launching the Eurasian Union. Despite the provocative rhetoric of international actors, it is the internal resistance of political protectors—partisan and liberal policemen that is the main challenge for Russia in its self-definition. This is true not only of the Eurasian Union, but also of many other infrastructural and ideological initiatives. Certainly, in the international arena it will have to bed explained that the Eurasian Union is not an attempt to restore the “savok”, but a political union of equal and free countries, whose main values are not only trade, but also to preservation of the fundamentals of international law, respect for traditions, national sovereignty and human rights in their true sense. These obvious thing will have to be explained not only to partner countries and future members of the new international structure, but also to ourselves, our own officials and strategists. Attempts to play “Big Brother” will longer pass….
Strange as it may seem to some, it is precisely Iran’s participation that can help avoid the perception of one-sidedness of the Eurasian Union project. It is the participation of such a powerful member of the new organization first will make meaningless talk about Russia being the sole and dominant beneficiary of this integration project, which, by the way, is the main thesis of the already-started counter-propaganda.
1. Iranian embassy in Moscow press release, “Seminar ‘Iran and regional cooperation in
Eurasia’ ” 20 February 2013 http://www.iranembassy.ru/?section=news&page=article&vi
ew=article&id=1258&PHPSESSID=7rnmghf75gqkhapk24to1g0vg7
2. See, for example: Ariel Cohen, U.S. Policy on Russia for Obama’s Second Term, http://
www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/02/us-policy-on-russia-for-obama-s-second-term
February 20, 2013
Jakub Korejba , “Will Putin Restore the USSR?” February 26, 2013 http://www.
neweasterneurope.eu/node/670
3. Freedom House, Nations In Transit 2006 http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/nations-
transit/2006/russia