In the past 24 hours, there has been an exchange of harsh words between Iran and Russia. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Russia by saying that its policy was turning it into an enemy of Iran, the Russians responded by calling Ahmadinejad a demagogue, and by issuing an unprecedented warning to Tehran while reminding it of the historic power balance between the two countries – under which Russia took for itself lands from the 19th-century Persian empire and forced it to sign humiliating agreements accepting these terms.
The following are the details of the interchange:
Ahmadinejad: Russia's Position Against the Tehran Declaration Could "Place Russia in the Ranks of [Iran's] Historic Enemies"
In a May 26, 2010 speech in Kerman, Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Russia that its position against the Tehran Declaration could turn it into "an enemy of the Iranian people." He said:
"Russian leaders should not create a situation that makes [the] Iranian people place Russia in the ranks of their historic enemies. Today, it has become difficult for us to explain [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev's behavior to the Iranian nation. The [Iranian] people don't know whether they [i.e. Russian officials] are our friends or are after something else."
He continued, "If I were the Russian president, when taking decisions on subjects related to the great Iranian nation, I would think things through more."
Kremlin Aide Prikhodko: "Nobody Has Ever Managed to Preserve Prestige With... Political Demagogy"
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A few hours later, Russia's response came at the diplomatic level, from Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko, who responded to Ahmadinejad's statements. He warned Ahmadinejad not to use demagogy, and warned Iran not to make extreme and non-transparent political decisions that endanger the international community.
Stating that Russia's position was neither pro-U.S. nor pro-Iran, Prikhodko noted: "Russia is guided by its own long-term state interests... Those who speak on behalf of the friendly Iranian people must remember this."
He continued, "Nobody has ever managed to preserve prestige with the help of political demagogy. I am confident that the many thousands of years of the history of Iran itself also attest to that... Russia has always favored and will keep favoring good and respectful relations with all neighbors, without exception – with both small states and great powers, with those whose history dates back centuries and those who have recently acquired their statehood... Any unpredictability, any political extremism, non-transparency and inconsistency in making decisions that concern the whole international community is unacceptable for Russia."
On May 27, 2010, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed Ahmadinejad's statement, telling a news conference that "it is being interpreted [in Russia] as emotional."
Russia's warning to Tehran has two elements:
a) An unprecedented warning to Tehran against "political extremism, non-transparency and inconsistency" in making any decisions about its nuclear program that could endanger world security.
b) It should be noted that Lavrov reminded Tehran that Russia is the superpower that is dealing with problems – one of which is Iran: "All the decisions that [Russia] makes on all questions of external policy are based on national [Russian] interests and on our responsibility as a great state which is involved in an array of international efforts to resolve difficult situations. And Iran is one of these [difficult situations]."
Although Russia speaks of the "assertion of principles of equality," it insulted Iran by mentioning historic Russia-Iran relations. In the first half of the 19th century, Russia dictated to Iran two humiliating agreements – the 1813 Treaty of Golestan and the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay – under which it appropriated extensive lands from Iran, including Azerbaijan and Central Asia and also forced it to favor Russia in its foreign policy. At the time of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the Persian monarch Fath Ali Shah was told that if he did not agree to the humiliating agreement presented by Russia, Tehran would be conquered within a matter of days.
*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project.