The Nature of Russia’s Political Behavior in the Central Asian Region and the Challenges for the Islamic Republic of Iran



Extended Abstract
The political behavior of Russia in the Central Asian region, since its collapse has experienced
four different periods:
1. 1991-1993, during which, for some reasons, the Russians did not pay any special
attention to this region;
2. 1993-2001, with the growth of radical fundamentalism and the beginning of the New
Great Game, the Russians’ attention was drawn to this region;
3. 2001-2005, after September 11, Putin started new relationships with NATO, while
agreeing with the presence of US troops and European companies’ investments in the
4. 2005-2009, the nature of Russia’s behavior turned out to be based on energy
imperialism for punishing revolutionaries and disloyal states, reviving the old empire,
and challenging the West in a new world competition;
The present paper studies the reasons for Russia’s paradoxical behaviors in Central Asia and
the consequent geopolitical challenges for Iran’s national interests.
Some scholars believe that Russia’s behavior towards Central Asia changes according to
Russian authorities’ approaches – Atlantic’s, Slav cists and Eurasian’s. Although the
authorities’ role in determining foreign policy pattern is not deniable, according to Kenneth N.
Waltz’s systemic theory “understanding international politics is not possible by merely looking
into the governments”. The writers argue that the theory of Structural Realism can be useful for
analyzing the nature of Russia’s behavior in this region. James Doherty and Robert Pfaltzgraff
believe that the main elements of realism are power, national interests, and fight for power in
international fronts.

Results and discussion
The implications for each period are as follows:
A. 1) Russia’s chaotic economic condition and the necessity to improve it through
intermingling with international economy; 2) the dominance of Atlantic approach; 3) lack of
attention to this region from other world-powers;
B. 1) the necessity to control radical fundamentalism; 2) the necessity to prevent Uranium
and drugs trafficking; 3) protecting the rights of the Russians remaining in Central Asia; 4)
guaranteeing the survival of CIS for safeguarding Russian interests in the future (Shiazi, 1997:
193); 5) discovering new oil and gas reserves and beginning the New Great Game; 6) the
necessity of more dynamism to keep up with the competitors in the New Great Game.
C. 1) Central Asian states’ developing intended to undermine Russian geopolitical
dominance as a result of Moscow’s strict behavior in the 90s; 2) stopping the continuity of the
states’ unstable economic condition with the help of the West and the subsequent decrease in
fundamentalist activities; 3) drawing the advantages of cooperation with the West, especially
the permission to confront the separatists, like in Chechnya, and improving the chaotic Russian
economy, especially through membership in WTO and the Group of Eight (G8); 4) establishing
its transit conditions through cooperation with the US; 5) understanding Russia’s superior
geographical-political situation, especially its energy power; 6) the ability to function as a rein
to control this region’s countries in superregional factors; 7) confronting the influence of
regional powers, especially China. It seems that in Russian authorities’ view these goals would
not be attained but through tactical cooperation with the West.
D. 1) the US attempts in the last two decades to disintegrate Russian political and economic
power; 2) The West attempts to change Central Asian leaders’ attitudes through supporting
Russia by means of Colorful revolutions, and the increase of Russian historic cynicism with the
Americans; 3) the improvement of Russia’s economic conditions (Mathieu, 2009: 2) and its
ability to revive Russian empire through economic means and even using hard force against
rebelling states like Georgia. Cogen says that historians consider August, 8, 2008 as a historic
turning point, no less than the fall of Berlin Wall, November, 9, 1989:
“In fact, Russia’s attack against the independent Georgian territory formally signals the
return of history to 19th century Great Game.”
Hence, taking into consideration the changing international situations and its means of force
(soft, hard, and smart), Russia has managed to exert and establish its geopolitical dominance on
Central Asia. In other words, Russia uses hard force (economic punishments, blocking transit
routes, and even military attack) against regional rebelling states, soft force (appeals and
motivations made possible by economic and security supports) against obedient states, and
energy policies against the influence of superregional powers, especially the EU – what
Tsygankov calls “energy imperialism”. Although Russia has, in some cases and for some
geopolitical implications, tactically accepted the Western presence and influence in Central
Asia, the nature of Moscow’s behavior in the region – i.e. total dominance – is always stable
and the same.
Iran, with its unique geography, is one of the most important potential competitors of Russia
in the region. Geopolitical logic urges Russia to restrict Iran’s influence on the region, as it does
with other influential powers. Because the more Iran’s influence on the region increases, the
more Russian geographical and political appeals, especially in energy transit and economic
competition in Central Asian market decreases. Moreover, in its attack to Georgia, Russia
showed that in addition to soft force, it will also use hard force if necessary. Based on such
attitudes, Russia, ignoring Iran’s views, emphasizes the joint nature of Caspian surface and the
division of its water, in order to exploit sea resources and, in emergency cases, conducts
maneuvers and exerts psychological influences on the neighboring countries for gaining more
advantage. However, due to some tactical implications, especially reining the unilateral
behaviors of the US, the geopolitical challenges between Iran and Russia in Central Asia, have
Human Geography Research Quarterly, No. 72, Summer 2010 11
not been revealed and focused on and will probably be taken to the political stage sometime in
the future.
This article presents that Iranian and Russian geopolitical interests in the region are naturally
contradictory in several ways: the Legal Regime of the Caspian Sea, energy transit, and
economic rivalry. This is because the more Iran’s politico-economic and cultural influence on
the region increases, naturally the more Russian opportunities for using its geographical position