Introduction Since the end of the 1980s, Iran and Russia have sought to increase their energy cooperation in the nuclear, oil and gas sectors. Both the Iranian government’s decision to shift foreign policy interests towards the East and US unilateral sanctions against Iran have pushed Iranian foreign policy towards increased cooperation with Russia. This decision of the Islamic Republic was first initiated under the presidency of Rafsanjani and later intensified by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ahmadinejad after his victory in the Iranian presidential elections in 2005. It emerged in light of Iran’s need to bypass Western restrictions on technology transfers in the nuclear, aviation and military sectors. Nevertheless, there is a debate inside the Islamic Republic’s political establishment about whether this foreign policy decision is beneficial for Iran. The reformist and pragmatic conservative factions are using the Iran-Russia dispute on dividing the Caspian Sea to justify their opposition to an alliance with Russia. Furthermore, after the contested June 2009 election, the president and the Supreme Leader have been accused of selling Iranian national interest to Moscow and of focusing on a rapprochement with Russia’s autocratic government in order to stop the internal bottom-up (par le bas) democratization process.1 Even Ahmadinejad, who advocated a “strategic partnership” or “strategic alliance” with Moscow in the Iranian media during his presidency, never said a word about this “diplomatic success” during the June 2009 presidential campaign. Even when under attack during the presidential debates for Iran’s growing isolation on the international scene, Ahmadinejad remained silent about this apparent success. This omission points to the emerging opposition among Tehran’s political elite to the diplomatic project of building an alliance with Russia. Nor is this opposition confined to the political elite: Iranian public opinion regarding the Russia-Georgia military conflict in August 2008 was predominantly negative: the episode awoke historical Iranian fears of Russian expansionism towards the south.2 In this chapter I will examine the dual nature of the Iranian-Russian relationship, which is both geopolitical and ideological, based on mutual short-term

interests, reciprocal hostility between Iran and the United States, and persistent American-Russian tensions in the post-Cold War period. Moreover, I will try to determine whether there is any continuity between the Pahlavi government’s Russian policy and that of the Islamic Republic. I will also consider whether it is possible to explain the relationship without reference to ideology, and whether there is any entente between the two countries regardless of their respective regimes, given the geopolitical interaction between Russia and Iran, geographical proximity, and oil and gas resources. I will stress the tactical dimension of this entente, which reveals an absence of any long-term foreign policy strategy to defend Iranian national economic interests. I will first study the continuity and rupture between Pahlavi policy and that of the Islamic Republic towards Moscow. I will then examine the nature of energy cooperation between Russia and Iran, including shared strategic and military interests, nuclear civil energy, oil and gas. Finally, I will analyse the internal political debate in both Tehran and Moscow regarding the relevance of this relationship for their respective national interests.3