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memri
January 8, 2018 No.
7269

Russian Middle East Expert Alexander Shumilin: Iran Uprising And Its Consequences For Russia

Alexander Shumilin, Director of the Center for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts at the Institute of the U.S. and Canadian Studies in Moscow, analyzed the consequences of the popular uprising in Iran for Russia in an article, titled "Iran Burning. Consequences For Russia,".

According to Shumilin, what is notable is the absence of comment by "activist bloggers among Duma members and senators" on the Iranian protests. "Are they absent due to the vacation? Hardly," comments the Russian Middle East analyst.

Shumilin surmises that officials close to the Russian government are "holding their breath" waiting to see whether one of two disastrous scenarios will unfold each with harmful consequences for Russia's political and military efforts in Syria. Shumilin amplifies:  "The first [scenario] is that the rebels will overthrow the ayatollahs' regime and withdraw IRGC units from Syria, after which Assad's regime in Damascus will quickly cease to exist (with similar consequences for Russia – the two military bases currently under development will be closed); the second variant is that the regime will suppress the riots, and a large-scale and prolonged civil war will develop along the same lines as in Syria (it all started the same way in 2011). The ayatollahs will have to gather the currently dispersed IRGC groups (in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon) to defend themselves in Iran. The result for Assad's regime is approximately the same, only delayed in time. The same is true about Russia."

Below are excerpts from Shumilin's article:[1]


Alexander Shumilin (Source: Novayagazeta.ru)


(Source: Me-journal.ru)

What's Notable Is The Absence Of Comments By Duma Members And Senators On The Iranian Protests

"While most Russians were enjoying their New Year dinners, looking from time to time at the glittering domestic TV screen, in Iran, which has for some time now been 'our friend', quite dramatic events were unfolding and gaining momentum: mass protests, which had started on December 28 in Mashhad, Iran's second most populous city, quickly spread to all large cities, including Tehran. Initial slogans, referring to high prices and other social problems, quickly morphed into political ones: 'Death to the dictator!', 'Reza Pahlavi (the Iranian Shah, exiled in 1979), we were wrong!', 'No to Gaza, no to Syria and Lebanon – yes to Iran!' Speakers at rallies called upon the authorities to stop interfering into the internal affairs of neighboring (Arab) states and to use financial resources to restore Iranian economy. Moreover, sometimes slogans criticizing Russia allegedly appeared as well.

"Protesters attack the headquarters and deployment sites of the 'holy of holies' – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the ayatollah regime's pillar of strength, and take over the local administration in provincial cities. According to some reports, the rahbar (supreme leader) Ali Khamenei himself allegedly sent his family to Turkey. As a result of clashes with police and IRGC units, at least 22 people have died as of this moment. In short, associations with the events of 1979, which led to the fall of the Shah's regime and the reign of ayatollahs, are more than obvious. The question is: how will it all end this time?

"Western TV channels report that there is panic in the top echelons of power in Tehran – both religious and formally secular. At first, they designated the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as the ones to blame for instigating and provoking the riots. Later, naturally, Israel was added to the list. And not only because these are the eternal enemies of the ayatollahs, but also because the capitals of those countries sent signals of clear support for the protesters from the highest level – the U.S. president Donald Trump, the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Prince Muhammad, heir to the Saudi throne. A signal of support for the protesters was also sent from Brussels. But in Moscow, the only things one can see are calm and quiet. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs only defined the events as 'Iran's internal affairs' and urged the external players not to interfere.

"What's notable in this situation is not the quite neutral statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry but the absence of comments on the part of activist bloggers among Duma members and senators. Are they absent because of the vacation? Hardly. When has such a trifle as vacation prevented our Duma members and senators from going on record saying something like 'we have won' or 'these are Western intrigues'? No, this is not the case now: evidently, there is some understanding of the serious and profound consequences of the events in Iran for Russia. Therefore, one must not miscalculate with accusations and evaluations. Remember how Moscow rejoiced in 1979 at the toppling of the pro-American Shah, only to get Ayatollah Khomeini, who quickly started referring to the USSR as the 'Lesser Satan', little better than the 'Great Satan”, aka the U.S.

"Current events in Iran put in question something more significant – the justifiability of Moscow's regional reliance upon Tehran in general and in Syria particularly. Let's admit it – our interaction with Tehran over Syria was forced by the deliberate and critical decision to place one's bet on… Bashar Assad. It is impossible to maintain the latter without interacting with Iran. That's how this 'triad' of Moscow, Tehran and Damascus came to be. Confronting it is an international coalition of 67 states, including leading Muslim countries.

"Today, officials close to government and Moscow experts are holding their breath waiting for two negative consequences scenarios: the first is that the rebels will overthrow the ayatollahs regime and withdraw IRGC units from Syria, after which Assad's regime in Damascus will quickly cease to exist (with similar consequences for Russia – the two military bases currently under development will be closed); the second variant is that the regime will suppress the riots, and a large-scale and protracted civil war will develop along the same lines as in Syria (it all started the same way in 2011). The ayatollahs will be compelled to assemble the currently dispersed IRGC groups (in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon) to defend themselves in Iran. The result for Assad's regime is approximately the same, only extended in time. The same is true for Russia.

"Of course, nobody expected this turn of events in Moscow when the decision was made to send the Russian Aerospace Forces to Syria – by the way, at the explicit request not only of Assad, but of Tehran as well, especially the IRGC commanders. The ayatollahs' regime has been viewed by Moscow as stable by force of habit. It turns out that everything is relative in Iran. And what's most important is that the Iranians may overthrow the ayatollahs that have driven everybody mad with their obscurantism in the same way they overthrew the Shah. But another mistake could have been foreseen by Moscow: placing one's bet on Shiite Iran in order to support the formally Shiite leadership of Syria (Bashar Assad) meant knowingly setting oneself against the Sunni majority in the Muslim world (about 85 percent of all Muslims are Sunnis).

"So, the official Moscow bloggers are silent. Thank God: one may hope that they are starting to learn the lessons of the Middle Eastern convulsions."

 

[1] Me-journal.ru, January 2, 2017.