Russia’s ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Iran said that Moscow-Tehran relations have acquired a strategic character.

Iran PressIran News: The relationship between Russia and Iran has continued on its steady upward course despite Western attempts to drive a wedge between the Russian Federation and its international partners since the beginning of the special operation in Ukraine in February 2022, said Alexey Dedov in an exclusive interview with Sputnik.

The ambassador, who presented his credentials in Tehran last September, discussed Iran-Russia relations on a number of topics, but especially the importance of trade as the two nations face down a tsunami of Western sanctions.

“And the [special military operation] is perceived in Iran quite reasonably and balanced. Absolutely the majority, the public, and the mass media are well aware that this was a necessity. This was a forced measure in response to the desire of NATO and the United States, which is at the head of this organization, to develop the influence of the alliance, and to spread it eastward. In particular, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, a decision was made to integrate Ukraine and Georgia into NATO,” he said.

“In Iran, it is well understood that the presence of NATO and its military apparatus on our [Russia’s] southern flank of Ukraine and in the north, in the Baltic countries, and in the short term in Finland, poses a rather serious threat to security, including our European part of Russia,” he noted. “This is where the bulk of the population is concentrated, where the main part of our industrial and agricultural potential is.”

“Russia tried to resolve this issue with NATO in some reasonable, peaceful way. You probably remember, and in Iran, they remember and know, that at the end of 2022, we proposed to the US and NATO to conclude agreements on mutual security guarantees,” Dedov said.

“But the other side simply did not want to listen to us. As for Ukraine, we have repeatedly voiced our readiness to solve problems peacefully, taking into account the existing realities. But Ukraine also did not want to listen to us, because the Kyiv regime unsuccessfully and irresponsibly hopes to win a military victory over Russia with the help of the West.”

“And it is significant that in September of last year, Zelensky signed a decree that, in principle, prohibits any negotiations with the Russian government. This is also a very revealing fact.”

Cooperating in the Caspian Sea

Dedov noted that even 15 years ago, when he first became involved in Russian diplomatic affairs in Iran, “relations between the two countries were very constructive, I would even say very cordial.”

“And by now, in my mind, relations between our countries have really acquired a strategic character. Regular contacts are maintained at all levels,” he added, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi have spoken three times already in as many months in 2023, and their foreign ministers have kept in communication as well.

Sputnik also spoke with Dedov about the Aktau convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, a 2018 agreement signed by the five Caspian Sea powers that only Tehran has so far refused to ratify, due to lasting concerns about the division of undersea natural resources in the inland waterway.

“We are well aware of Iran's position on this issue, we respect it and hope that Iran will complete the procedures for ratifying the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea as soon as possible,” Dedov said.

“When this document enters into force, the legal basis for our full cooperation in the Caspian Sea will be laid. And so, of course, consultations on this issue are constantly underway, and meetings of the five-sided high-level working group are being held. The last such meeting took place quite recently, in December last year. But the most important thing is that the five countries are unanimous in that a non-regional presence in the Caspian should not be allowed, especially if this presence would be of a military nature,” Dedov said.

In addition to governing how the five nations divide up the Caspian Sea’s fishing and hydrocarbon resources, the agreement also stipulates that no other nations can deploy military forces in the waterway - an important consideration as the NATO alliance seeks to court some regional states, especially Azerbaijan Republic.

Completing the INSTC

“As for specific projects in which the Caspian countries are involved: this is, of course, the 'International North-South Transport Corridor.' There is an operational eastern railway line that runs from Iran through Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Russia. Work is currently underway to close the western branch,” Dedov noted.

“To do this, it is necessary to build an approximately 160-kilometer railway section from Astara on the [Iranian] border with the Azerbaijan Republic to Rasht” in Iran, he explained, noting that the section from Rasht across the Alborz Mountains to Qazvin has already been completed.

“Therefore, this project [Rasht-Astara railway] is of great importance, as it will enable uninterrupted transportation of goods from the port of Ust-Luga, which is located near St. Petersburg [Russia] to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. This is perhaps the most important and leading project that five countries are implementing in the Caspian,” Dedov said.

Growing Russia-Iran Trade

The ambassador described Russia-Iran trade as growing at “quite a dynamic pace,” noting trade turnover grew by 40% in 2021 and by 20% in 2022, reaching nearly $5 billion. Indeed, Javad Ouji, Iran’s oil minister and co-chair of a joint intergovernmental commission on trade and cooperation between Iran and Russia, recently proposed the aspirational target of $40 billion in trade turnover.

“One thing is clear the trade potential of our countries is far from being fully realized, and a lot of work is required for its further growth. I think that our joint intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation should play a leading role in this regard. It should be noted that the last meeting of this commission took place in the [Russian] city of Grozny on November 1 of last year,” he said, adding that the impression of the meetings is that it “gave a fairly serious impetus to the development of our relations in the trade and economic sphere.”

The ambassador noted that 78 Russian federal subjects - that is, Russia’s top-level political divisions - engage in trade with Iran. He noted special coordination between the heads of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Iran in recent months, and that the relationships go beyond simple commodity trading to include tourism and even friendly soccer matches.

Nuclear Power and Sanctions

Another field of cooperation is nuclear power. Russia’s Atomstroyexport helped complete the nuclear power station at Bushehr and maintain it, especially during the period of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, when the Western powers did not object to its functioning, and the first reactor was brought online.

“Fifteen years ago when I was here [last], the Bushehr station was only at the stage of construction … And now, as you know, the first unit of the Bushehr nuclear power plant has already been launched and Russia provides ongoing maintenance. I think this is a vivid example of the fruitful cooperation between the [Russian] state corporation Rosatom and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran,” he said.

“Now the flagship project in this area is the construction of the second and third units of this nuclear power plant, which is being carried out in accordance with the agreed schedule. In particular, last year, preparatory work was carried out for the construction of the main pumping stations, strengthening of groundwater, the construction of auxiliary buildings of both units, and the erection of walls for the reactor compartment of the second unit,” he said.

“It is clear that this year all these works continue. And the key to success in this key area of ​​cooperation with Iran is the strict observance of contractual obligations by the parties, and then the project will be completed successfully and on time.”

Now, however, the US has unilaterally brought back sanctions against Iran by pulling out of the JCPOA based on unproven claims Tehran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapon. Russia and the other JCPOA signatories were unconvinced by US claims and have continued observing the deal, except where US sanctions have intimidated them into halting. And more recently, the US has imposed punishing economic sanctions on Russia as well, designed to scare other nations into also cutting economic ties with them.

Dedov quipped Russia had become the “champion” of sanctions over Iran because the West has imposed some 15,000 sanctions against Moscow, while it has just 8,000 against Tehran.

“Iran, however, has been under sanctions for more than 40 years. But this did not prevent Iran from realizing its economic potential, finding ways to develop various sectors of the economy and building facilities,” he observed.

“Such US sanctions are considered illegal both in Iran and in our country. But if more sanctions are added in this area, in fact, this will not significantly affect our cooperation with Iran, including in the nuclear sphere.”