Non-Bloc Russia & the Nightmare of Coalitions

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the representative of the Supreme Leader of Iran, the former Minister of Defence of Iran Ali Shamkhani spoke with representatives of the Institute for Iran-Eurasia Studies (the Iranian partner of the Russian International Affairs Council). During the conversation, characterizing the possible development of the relationship between Iran and Russia in the short-term, the high-ranking Iranian politician dropped the phrase: “If to proceed from the opportunities of both parties, it is actually possible to speak about the creation of an effective regional coalition, the purpose of which is security not only in the region, but also around the world”.

This is already the second proposal in a year for Russia for the creation of a military alliance. The previous one came from Xi Jinping, who in July, 2016, speaking at the ceremonial meeting of the Communist Party of China devoted to its 95th anniversary, stated: “We now observe the aggressive actions of the US concerning Russia and China. I believe that Russia and China can create an alliance before which NATO will be powerless, and it will put an end to the imperialistic ambitions of the West”.

Where did such persistence come from, and why doesn’t Russia hurry to formalise relations with the countries wishing to enter into a military alliance with it?

When, in 1939, Chamberlain announced the provision of British guarantees to Poland, he was subjected to sharp, but fair criticism from parliamentary opposition. They accused him of making the entry of Britain into the war dependent on the decisions of the Polish government.

Today we observe in Europe the same “high relations”. Younger, weak members of NATO stage anti-Russian provocations and inflate the intensity. Then, referring to the intensity created by them, they demand from the senior members of NATO the placement of troops on their territory and the rendering of financial support to them.

When Trump tried to find a way out of this vicious circle, having suggested to NATO partners to pay for their own security, i.e. to pay for the maintenance of American troops in Europe, a row began not only with the small and weak, but even Germany. Merkel perfectly understood that if earlier the German taxpayers paid for only the fighter jets being on duty in the Baltic sky (on a rotational basis with other NATO partners), now it is necessary to pay and for the American brigades in Eastern Europe, and for their doctrines, and so on. Romanians and Balts won’t be able to pay for this pleasure all the same.

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Thus, as we see, in any alliance there is always the one who incurs the main costs, and the one who receives the main benefits.

Let me remind you that the same China wasn’t especially interested in the opportunity to form an alliance with Russia when Moscow practically singlehandedly maintained pressure on the US and NATO (the Georgian conflict, the Ukrainian crisis, the beginning of the Syrian crisis). Beijing took a favourable position in relation to Russia, but it was expressed mainly in the fact that China at the UN didn’t vote for the anti-Russian resolutions. But they also didn’t veto them, preferring to abstain. There was no talk about any binding military alliance at all.

China’s interest in the formalisation of relations arose when the US decided to transfer the center of gravity of pressure from Russia to China, and their naval activity in the water of the Pacific Ocean, including near the Chinese coast, sharply increased. In such a situation a binding military alliance with Russia wouldn’t simply become for China a charter of immunity, but also again would switch the US’ attention to Russia, since Moscow would show its readiness to support and create any anti-American unions.

Today Russia actively supports China’s political and diplomatic means, and also doesn’t hide its close military interaction (military and technical cooperation, joint doctrines). But Russia has no binding agreement that would assume its unconditional introduction in a military conflict on the side of China. Moscow’s hands remain untied, and the space for maneuver is wide in a scenario.

Thus, such a position of Moscow protects China no worse than a binding agreement. The US isn’t able to afford a confrontation with the People’s Republic of China, which has sufficient opportunities for a prolonged resistance and causing unacceptable damage in conditions when China still has a strong and friendly Russian rear, and Russia will keep its hands free and, undoubtedly, will act as a mediator. I.e. until the US bleeds to death, Russia will receive an opportunity to score political points, and its military potential will become a more and more powerful argument while the American one will be exhausted.

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The US likes too much to fight in such a way to afford to drag chestnuts from the fire for someone else.

That’s why a partnership without the formalisation of a military alliance provides to China reliable protection while a military alliance would make Russia the priority target of the US. Thus, it is clear even for a child that if the Russian nuclear, military, and space forces and fleet are capable of reliably supporting China in the Far East, then the help of China in the main European theatre of military operations for Russia would be purely nominal.

The situation with Iran is even more complicated. Yes, we now are allies in the Syrian settlement. But Turkey is also included in this company of compelled partners. Recently even Qatar, which only yesterday was the most consistent enemy, persistently begs for friendship.

At the same time at the moment a definitive Syrian settlement seems to be impossible without the good will of the US. Meanwhile, Iran for Trump’s administration is such a strong irritant as China is. So far Moscow and Tehran being partners in the “fight against terrorists” is exactly the same as the US coalition with “moderate” terrorists being against ISIS. The Americans don’t like Iran, we don’t like “moderate” terrorists, but as “not-moderate” terrorists are worse than “moderate” ones, we suffer their allies, and they suffer ours.

If Russia signs a formal military agreement with Tehran, it assumes liability to protect Iran from the US (Tehran has nobody to be afraid of anymore in the Middle East). Under such an umbrella Iran and the pro-Iranian Shiite formations will feel much more free. If now they try not to provoke direct clashes with American military personnel, then, having received the Russian obligation to enter war on their side, they will become much less reserved.

In addition, both Turkey and Iran apply for the role of regional leader. Having signed a military agreement with Iran, Moscow will automatically push Ankara into the camp of our opponents.

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Finally, there is also the Arab factor. Saudi Arabia and other monarchies of the Persian Gulf lean not only and not so much on oil and gas billions and not on special relations with the US. Their main asset is the support of the Sunni Arab world, which sees in Iran and Turkey non-ethnic (non-Arab) forces, and in the Iranian case – also the Shiites seeking to establish domination over the Arab world. Arabs [rural tribes – ed] were and will be the third center of force in the Middle East, equally hostile to both Turkey and Iran.

There is also a fourth center of force — Israel, which managed to establish more or less constructive relations with the surrounding Arab countries. Iran doesn’t hide the intention to destroy the state of Israel. Therefore, a formalized union with Iran makes not only Turkey our enemy, but also Israel, and the gulf monarchies, i.e. all the Middle East.

What Iran receives from this union is clear — free hands and protection against the US. And what Russia receives? Besides the obligation to support by military force the Iranian ambitions in the Middle East?

Russia doesn’t need a new regional hegemon (even if friendly, whilst it hasn’t changed its mind yet). Russia needs lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of taking into account the interests of all regional players. An unbiased, mediator role — an honest broker provides to Russia a much stronger position in the region, with considerably smaller expenses than a role of the gendarme at the service of the new regional leader (as the US was at the service of Saudi Arabia).

It’s not an accident that great Bismarck was pursued by “a nightmare of coalitions”. A military coalition is being created at the place and time when the states in its composition don’t see another possibility to prevent war than by declaring a common defense. The coalition is the last step before war. It always stimulates the creation of an opposing coalition. And then a Serbia, a Belgium or a Poland appear that is impossible not to protect.

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