Alexander Privalov

Versiya, No. 33, August 29 – September 04, 2016, p. 3

Last week, domestic liberal press was occupied with strange equilibristics trying to pose the situation as if Moscow and Tehran quarreled on the grounds of Russian military presence in Iran.


Last week, domestic liberal press was occupied with strange equilibristics trying to pose the situation as if Moscow and Tehran quarreled on the grounds of Russian military presence in Iran. Everything started from the statement of the Defense Ministry of Russia that Russian long-range aviation airplanes Tu-22M3 and frontline bombers Su-24 used the third tactical air base of the air force of Iran Hamadan as a “base airfield” and performed a group sortie for an aviation strike at objects of the militants in Syria.

And there began insinuations. Either Defense Minister of Iran Hossein Dehghan was indignant about lack of reservation of the representative of the Russian Defense Ministry or this indignation was attributed to him here in Russia. Liberal journalists copied the “quotation” from each other, “Decision to speak about use of the base in mass media without coordination with Iran was dictated by a wish to show off. Russians wish to show that they are a super power and an influential country and that they actively behave in the field of security in this region and in the world. We see disrespectful attitude behind disclosure of this information.” But was at least a grain of truth in this quotation? The matter came to a point when 20 Iranian legislators headed by Mahmoud Sadeghi sent a query to presidium of the parliament to explain the situation regarding use of Shahid Noje air base in Hamadan by the Airspace Forces of Russia. Speaker of the Islamic consultation council Ali Larijani answered, “The flights are not suspended.” “Iran and Russia are allied in combating of terrorism” and the air base in Hamadan “is not provided to anyone on the permanent basis” but Russian pilots can use it like before.

Hamadan became one of the support points on the Syrian route of the Russian Air Force back in 2015. Russian airplanes from transport airplanes and aerial tankers to combat ones landed at the air base near the city last autumn. Then Russian airplanes conducted refueling there if necessary and further flew to the Syrian base of Hmeymim.

Chair of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council Frants Klintsevich called “mutual misunderstanding” the reason of the incident.” However, the press secretary of the Foreign Ministry of Iran announced that use of the Iranian air base in Hamadan “is stopped so far.” Ambassador of Russia in Tehran Levan Dzhagaryan confirmed that Russian servicemen left Hamadan. Along with this, he hinted that they might return in the future. So, what is happening in reality?

Version 1. The problem appeared due to the fault of Russian military who published secret information too early

Just a day before his sharp interview Dehghan explained the motives of Iran when it provided the base for Russian aviation. He added that an approval was obtained from the supreme council of national security of the country and assured representatives of mass media that Russian airplanes would take off the air base in Hamadan “as long as it is necessary.” What has changed? The reason is in formulations. According to indirect information, Russian military wished to use the air base not only as an airfield but also as a normal military object with stationing of the relevant arsenals there. Along with this, according to the constitution of Iran provision of the territory of the country for foreign servicemen is not allowed regardless of the goal. In the course of all these negotiations premature announcement of plans by the Russian party was like behavior of an elephant in a china shop. Dispute is going on between various branches of the authorities as to who has a right to make the key decisions in the country. Decision about admission of Russian aviation was made by the supreme council of national security and according to the constitution this matter should be settled by the parliament. The military responded to the attempt of the parliament members to raise this issue that this was none of their business. A tense internal struggle is going in the country and presidential elections are planned for May of 2017.

Version 2. The problem was created by Iran looking at the West

Earlier, expert of the Moscow Carnegie Center Alexei Malashenko forecasted that the base in Hamadan might be closed at any moment for Russian long-range aviation, “The situation when Moscow claims a certain global role using cooperation with Tehran as a site for realization of its ambitious is obviously not liked by Iranian authorities. Iran does not wish to be a junior partner of Moscow and hints that it is ready to be only on equal terms with it. Along with this, relations with the West and not with Russia become a priority in the new multi-vector policy of Iran from which sanctions have been lifted.”

Lana Ravandi-Fadai, senior research fellow of the center for Middle East studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, agrees with this, “Administration of President Barack Obama did a lot to improve relations with Iran and succeeded in this very much.” It would be possible to presume that the Kremlin seriously overestimated its importance in the eyes of Iranians presuming that if Iran had bad relations with the US and its allies it had to stick with Russia. But this is not in a tradition of Iranians. They have always behaved fairly independently. In the last few years, they also started taking Russia with suspicion. Along with this, the Kremlin should blame itself for this. The matter is about the memorable story of the contract on supply of five Russian air defense missile systems S-300 to Iran. It was signed in 2005 when former US President George Bush declared Iran its enemy number one in the world and threatened to attack this country. Years were passing by but Russian S-300 were not supplied although according to indirect information the Iranian party already transferred an advance payment under the contract. Iran filed a lawsuit worth $4.2 billion against Russia to the international arbitration court. Chair of the parliamentary committee for national security of Iran Alaeddin Boroujerd remarked, “Russians have opened a new chapter in non-fulfillment of promises, if they do not fulfill the contract this will become a negative spot in bilateral relations.” French newspaper L’Express reported then that for this refusal Israel agreed to sell its unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia at a privileged price. Only in 2015 when sanctions were lifted the brake was removed and S-300 systems were finally supplied to the customer. However, a spoon is dear when lunchtime is near.

Version 3. Anti-Russian forces tried to make the Kremlin quarrel with Tehran

Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani announced that Russian Airspace Forces kept using the Iranian air base Hamadan, “The flights are not suspended and Iran continues cooperation in Russia in combating of terrorism.”

Director of the Russian council for international affairs Andrei Kortunov states, “Iran that is playing a sophisticated game would not wish to look like a satellite of Russia. This has caused the decision of Tehran that looks unexpected only at first glance. From the military point of view loss of a possibility to use air base Hamadan, even if it happens, will not have critical importance for Russia because it has enough alternative options for delivery of strikes in Syria. On the part of Tehran this is a symbolic gesture.”