The consequences for Russia of the nuclear deal with Iran

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Series Details No.177 (03.08.15)
Publication Date 04/08/2015
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The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the USA, the United Kingdom, China, France and Russia) plus Germany and the European Union signed a deal with Iran on 14 July in Vienna (a Plan of Action with five appendices, henceforth referred to as the Vienna Agreement). Under this agreement, Iran undertook to restrict its nuclear programme and to bring it under international scrutiny for 15 years in exchange for a gradual lifting of international sanctions (both those imposed between 2006 and 2010 by the UN Security Council and the unilateral US and EU sanctions).

Even though Russia has officially reacted positively to this deal, the consequences it will have are rather ambiguous from Moscow’s point of view. Iran looks set to become stronger and will possibly normalise its relations with the West, and especially the United States. This, in political terms, is a disadvantage for Russia. The Kremlin’s ability to use its policy towards Iran as a bargaining chip in contacts with Washington will be reduced significantly.

In turn, the benefits will include improving the perception of Russia in the West and the opening up of new opportunities for the geopolitical game in the region, both with Iran and its opponents in the Arab world. Similarly, in economic terms, the possible lifting of sanctions will offer Russia new opportunities to achieve immediate benefits owing to co-operation in the nuclear and military-technical areas.

In the short term, the lifting of sanctions will not pose any threat to Russia’s position on the global energy markets. However, in the long term, the end of Iran’s international isolation may bring negative consequences for Russia, such as the dominant position of Western and/or Chinese companies in the Iranian upstream sector, rising exports of Iranian oil and gas to EU and Asian markets (which are essential for Russia) and the downward pressure on oil and gas prices.

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