The Soviet Union and Iran,1979-89
It must be made clear that any interference, let alone military intervention in the affairs of Iran - a state which has a common frontier with the Soviet Union - would be regarded by the USSR as a matter affecting its security interests. 3
By late 1978 to early 1979, however, the Soviet Union decided that it was time to come out clearly on the side of the Iranian opposition. They began to emphasize the anti-imperialist nature of the opposition and the Soviet media started to attack the Shah, denouncing him as a corrupt and brutal dictator who had oppressed the Iranian people.4 Evidently the increasingly obvious instability of the Pahlavi regime presented the Soviet Union with a good chance in terms of the possibility of undermining American influence and prestige in the region. According to one Western observer:
At some point between the appointment of the military government in early November and the second week in December, when the chances of the Shah's survival began to be questioned in the Soviet media, Moscow had come to the conclusion that it must prepare itself for a possible change of regime in Iran.s
To some extent the Soviet Union was as unprepared as the United States for the new regime which took power after the revolution in Iran. The prospect of an Islamic fundamentalist entity on its back doorstep was not entirely welcome, but the strategic and economic losses which it represented for the US most certainly were. The US lost its 'Gulf Policeman' and with ita vital network of electronic monitoring and information gathering stations positioned on the Iran-Soviet border. More intangible, but perhaps more importantly, its reliability and prestige as a superpower patron suffered serious setbacks in terms of credibility. In zero-sum terms, the US' loss was a definite gain for the Soviet Union. The Soviet conclusion was summed up thus:
Anti-American slogans put forward by the Islamic Republic encouraged the hope for the Soviet Union that Moscow could step in and fill the gap left by America. It therefore based its foreign policy towards Iran on the following two premises:
1 The Soviet Union considered the new regime in Tehran to be fundamentally anti-imperialist and therefore was a possible instrument for Soviet interests in the region.