Russian FM Sergei Lavrov (right) with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. (AFP)

By Faramarz Davar

June 20, 2020

Iran and Russia have pledged their commitment to tackle global problems through cooperation and upholding international law, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced on June 16.

Zarif met with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, where they signed the Joint Declaration on the Promotion of International Law, which is set out in 13 clauses, and which Zarif said emphasizes the two countries’ commitment to the principles of international rights at a time when the United States and other countries were taking “illegal” steps to deal with world crises.

Iran and Russia “are determined to deal with unilateral & illegal approaches to resolving global crises,” Zarif posted on Twitter in English, quoting the agreement. In a joint statement with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he said, they “reaffirmed commitment” to international law as the United States and its “cronies” attack the foundations of international relations through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council.

But in recent years, how often have the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia adhered to the commitments outlined in the statement? How in step with international rights and international law are they? If both countries’ performance is anything to go by, it is plain to see that neither country has been in the habit of adhering to the clauses of the agreement they have both signed.

The statement stressed the importance of refraining from threats or coercion against other countries, non-interference in the affairs of other states and acknowledging independent states’ immunity and the immunity of their properties from the courts of another country, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and condemned acts such as sanctions against Iran. And yet both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia have repeatedly violated these principles.

Russia has a poor record in refraining from threats, and has regularly used force against other countries, including most recently in Georgia and Ukraine. In the summer of 2008, Russia invaded Georgia, paving the way for South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia. Russia’s 2014 military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the south of the country resulted in Russia annexing the peninsula and Crimea’s secession from Ukraine, hardly a good example of non-interference in the affairs of other countries.

In recent years, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly targeted Iraqi territory with shelling and missiles,  the most recent example being the firing of a missile at a US airbase in Iraq in January in retaliation for the assassination of Ghasem Soleimani. Iraq subsequently lodged a formal complaint to the United Nations Security Council about the incident.

Regarding the peaceful settlement of disputes, the two countries have repeatedly shown their willingness to use non-peaceful methods to successfully pursue political, financial and territorial agendas. The Islamic Republic routinely uses citizens of countries it regards as its enemies as bargaining chips, arresting and jailing them in an effort to gain the upper hand in disputes. Australian, American, British and French citizens have all been targeted in this way over the last several years, attracting huge attention in the international media, and prompting comprehensive diplomatic negotiations and human rights campaigns. In many cases, these hostages are dual nationals.

For example, successive British foreign secretaries and international media have noted that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British citizen detained in Tehran and sentenced to five years in prison, is being held to settle a financial dispute with the United Kingdom regarding a military purchase dating back to before the 1979 revolution and the toppling of Mohammad Reza Shah. The same can be said about the detention of US citizens or Iranian-American citizens and Iran’s attempts to initiate prisoner swaps and bring back Iranians jailed in the US on charges of circumventing sanctions. In fact, the practice of detaining innocent people to resolve clashes with other countries has been a defining feature of Iranian foreign policy for the last 41 years.

The Iran and Russia agreement also emphasizes the importance of states and their properties having immunity. The clause was probably included in the statement at Iran’s request because of the seizure of Iranian assets in the United States to help compensate the victims of terrorist operations carried out with the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran. While Iran has emphasized the principle of immunity of states and their property, the Iranian regime has repeatedly condoned attacks on foreign embassies and diplomatic missions in Tehran, again using them as a way of dealing with countries with which it disagrees.

The attack on the embassy and residence of British embassy staff by the student-led unit of the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, in 2011, and the Basij attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad in 2016 are good examples of the Islamic Republic’s violation of the principle of immunity, and part of a pattern of violation over the Islamic Republic’s 41-year history. Of course, the first,  most expensive and most famous example of this tactic was the occupation of the US embassy and the hostage-taking of its diplomats in 1979.

The Iran-Russia joint statement also criticizes US sanctions against Iran, although the condemnation is not set out directly.  This could be because although Russia appears to agree with Iran that the sanctions are unjustified, it has complied with these sanctions and has also benefited from them. Because of the sanctions, Iran has been forced to trade with the Russian national currency the ruble instead of more regularly-used currencies such as the dollar and the euro. In some cases, it has even had to resort to bartering in order to exchange commodities.

The meeting between the two foreign ministers and the agreement emerging from it may present two countries bonded together by their shared values. But scrutiny of the two countries’ conduct when it comes to diplomacy, the rule of law and protecting states’ sovereignty indicates something more sinister: that Russia-Iran cooperation is more about pushing their own agendas and forming a barrier against aspects of international law that might go against them.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.