There has been a lot of speculation about how the lifting of sanctions and the re-engagement of Western companies in Iran would influence Iran’s relations with Russia. The simplistic view is that a resurgent Iran would compete with Russia as a major exporter of oil and gas, hence compelling Moscow to stand in the way of Iran developing its oil and gas potential. However, the reality is more complex and any projection of Tehran-Moscow ties will need to take into account the larger picture, especially the role that Iran can play in Moscow’s emerging strategy to focus more intensely on Asia. Furthermore, considering the fact that Russia has been one of the active members of the six world powers' negotiations with Tehran, one has to assume that Moscow has been protecting its interests in Iran and the region.
There is no doubt that Moscow has been engaged in complex strategic calculations in its policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. Prior to the emergence of President Hassan Rouhani’s policy of engagement, Moscow used the Iran policy card to secure concessions from Western governments. However, Tehran’s more conciliatory policy, among other events, changed the strategic equation. The consequent changes can also explain the unprecedented high-level diplomacy between Tehran and Moscow in the past 18 months or so. In fact, on July 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Rouhani held yet another meeting on the sidelines of the joint summits of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Russian city of Ufa. In the same meeting, Rouhani said, “I consider it my duty to thank Russia for the efforts it has made in resolving and negotiating the Iranian nuclear program, and for the personal efforts made by Mr. [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov.” Rouhani further highlighted Moscow’s “outstanding role” in both regional and international issues.