Dmitri Trenin: How the Iran Nuclear Standoff Looks From Russia [View all]
By Dmitri Trenin Wed Feb 15 00:00:52 GMT 2012
When Russians look at Iran, they see a country that has been their neighbor and rival forever. As the Russian empire advanced, it wrestled the North and South Caucasus from the Shah. Peter the Great annexed, briefly, Iranís entire Caspian Sea coastline and put his forces just north of Tehran.
In the early 20th century, Russia and the U.K. divided Iran into zones of influence. The Russians got the north and proceeded to occupy Iran twice, during each of the world wars. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met with Josef Stalin in Tehran in 1943, they were protected by the Red Army.
Yet there was never much love lost between the two countries. To Iranians, Russia was too powerful and too threatening. Russians, meanwhile, remembered their own embassy trauma at Iranian hands in 1829. Every schoolchild knows the fate of Alexander Griboyedov, the czarís ambassador to Persia, who was murdered, with his entire embassy staff, by an angry Tehran mob. Griboyedov was a great Russian author, many of whose lines Russian children -- and grown-ups -- know by heart.
This brief background is vital to understanding where Russians are coming from as they approach Iranís nuclear program, and why they have adopted such a stop-go approach to supporting international efforts to rein it in. Although Russia has backed limited sanctions at the United Nations, it has clashed with the U.S. and Europe over the much tougher sanctions they are now imposing unilaterally. It strongly opposes any use of military force.