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Ukraine Crisis Strengthens the China-Iran-Russia Axis

Written by Majid Rafizadeh

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Russia, the Islamic Republic of Iran and China have strengthened geopolitical ties to create a united front after President Vladimir V. Putin reclaimed Crimea putin flag-450x343as a part of Russia and after the Crimean local government called for a referendum to secede the peninsula from Ukraine.

The Russian-American standoff over Ukraine has made these three nations more united in attempting to create a new power pole, counterbalancing and resisting the West— particularly the United States— in the region and beyond.

Last week, Iran’s state-run Press TV announced that Putin and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani agreed that Moscow would build two additional nuclear power plants for Tehran as well as construct new facilities next to Iran’s power plant in the city of Bushehr. Each plant will offer the Islamic Republic 1,000 megawatts of power and assist the Islamic Republic in eliminating its reliance on oil as well.

Since the Ukraine crisis, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, has repeatedly pointed out that the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to continue its mutual cooperation with Russia regarding its nuclear facilities and strategic interests. China, which generally follows Russia’s foreign policies when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, did not object to the recent moves. On the other hand, there has not been strong leadership from the West, particularly from the Obama administration, to condemn or halt such a move.

The Islamic Republic is benefiting from the Ukrainian crisis, as it finds Russia moving closer towards Tehran to reinforce its strategic depth in the region to obstruct Western objectives. Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are attempting to restore their wounded regional and international prestige by defying the West. In addition, Khamenei, Rouhani and his nuclear team are taking advantage of this crisis by feeling less pressure to make concessions in the current nuclear talks. 

Rouhani addressed the provincial managers and officials of Bushehr province pointing out,

Our first nuclear power plant is active in the (Bushehr) province which will develop, God willing… Based on our estimates, the second nuclear power plant will be built in the same province and I hope that we can use the facilities of this province.

Sallehi defiantly stated, “We are not obliged to introduce to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the nuclear facilities that we are to build in the future and only 180 days before entry of nuclear substances there, we will inform the IAEA of them.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, France, China, Britain and Germany) started their diplomatic negotiations this week to make headway on the nuclear dispute, which aims to create a lasting accord permanently resolving the decade-old nuclear standoff, preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining an atomic bomb and possibly averting the threat of another war in the Middle East.  The interim nuclear deal expires on July 20th and the P5+1 are aiming at agreeing on comprehensive one before this date.

Several Western diplomats and policy analysts are claiming that the US-Russian confrontation is not going to undermine the quest for a final nuclear deal over Iran’s atomic activity or Tehran’s nuclear defiance; however, this idealistic view seems to be unrealistic.

Although Russia and China agreed to reconvene for the nuclear talks and hold meetings during the Ukraine crisis, this act does not necessarily mean that they are going to agree with the West’s terms for the final nuclear deal.  They are going to use these nuclear talks as geopolitical and strategic leverage to forcefully push for their own political and strategic agenda in the nuclear talks.

In other words, Russia and China are going to affect the final deal’s details and nuances that are being negotiated, including the amount of centrifuges that Tehran can retain, the level at which they are allowed to enrich uranium, the preservation of the plutonium reactor in Arak (Fordow), and the scope of IAEA inspectors monitoring the nuclear facilities.

As American-Russia tensions continue, Moscow is going to be far less strict on Iran’s nuclear program. While the Western powers attempt to significantly scale back and reduce Tehran’s centrifuges from approximately 20,000 to a few thousand, Moscow has been far more lenient, pointing out that it is willing to accept a final deal with Tehran retaining most of its nuclear infrastructure with nearly 20,000 centrifuges. Beijing has taken the same position.

The Ukraine crisis has provided Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran with a new platform to further establish their strategic depth and present themselves as influential political actors in the region. As the West-Russia standoff simmers, the Western powers will find it much more difficult to attain Moscow’s support for the specific terms that they desire in the final nuclear deal.

While the Ukrainian crisis moves Russian leaders closer to their Iranian counterparts, Tehran is feeling less pressure to make concessions as well. The final deal will likely be much less strict on Iran’s nuclear activities, the number of the centrifuges it can retain, and the level of uranium enrichment it can pursue.

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Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Dr. Rafizadeh is a regular commentator for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few. Follow Dr. Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.

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