Tensions between Russia and the West have simmered since Ukraine’s Russian-leaning president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted on Feb. 21. The crisis culminated when the Crimean Peninsula’s local government, with 60% of its inhabitants identifying themselves as ethnic Russians, called for a referendum on seceding the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. While observers view the current Ukraine standoff as the gravest post-Cold War between the West and Moscow, the impasse over Iran’s nuclear crisis is also considered the greatest challenge to Iran-West relations.
Iran will remain neutral in this conflict, despite that the crisis in Ukraine may result in a favorable outcome to its future including the standoff with the West over its nuclear program. A senior Iranian official said, “Iran would surely stay out of this dispute [over Ukraine].” However, the crisis in Ukraine could have possible impacts on Russia-Iran relations.
The Russian military intervention in Ukraine could result in NATO forces moving closer to Ukraine’s western borders. However, Russia is concerned that its withdrawal from Crimea may result in the West’s crawling of military forces toward the borders of Russia, thus jeopardizing its security and weakening its strategic depth. In the last two decades, Russia and Iran have been carefully watching the United States and NATO expanding their reach eastward by erecting military bases around the borders of the two countries, with near-total disregard for Moscow’s and Tehran’s legitimate security interests. In recent years, under Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule, both states have been resisting Western hegemony, seeking to mend their wounded pride and prestige and attempting to extricate themselves from what they perceived as a lack of international respect and influence. In 2005, Putin said that the fall of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. To give up on Ukraine and allow it to slip out of Russia’s orbit would be a monumental blow to Putin’s efforts for restoring Russia’s position in the international arena.
Since 2006, the United States has successfully amassed consensus among world powers with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, the outcome of which were UN sanction resolutions, followed by unilateral US and EU sanctions. Now, a persistent Ukrainian crisis may bring to bear a number of scenarios.
“Ukraine crisis could strengthen Russia-Iran-China ties,” Hossein Mousavian, Al Monitor, March 17, 2014.