Iran and the Soviet Union during the First Decade of the Islamic Revolution: Beyond Ideological Hostility?

This intervention aims to shed light on the ideological debate both in post-revolutionary Iran and the Soviet Union regarding what the last Shah of Iran, Mohamad Reza Pahlavi, called the alliance between the “black and the red” (ettehad sork-o siah). Beyond this perceived entente, it is noteworthy that the ideological dimension was in fact an element of distrust between Moscow and Tehran during the first decade of the Islamic revolution. Nevertheless, despite the official slogan of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy ‘Neither East, nor West, Islamic Republic’, it has been a question of survival for the new revolutionary regime to be less ideological with the Eastern bloc than with the Western alliance. The ideological tension between these two ideological states was not a definitive hurdle in building a new relationship between the two neighbours. The anti-imperialist nature of the Islamic Revolution was a positive evolution in comparison with the pro-Western stance of the Imperial regime. Despite the elimination of the Tudeh in 1983, during the 1980s, the main factors driving the bilateral relationship were not main ideological. Two geopolitical factors were preeminent in explaining the inability of the two neighbours to build a strategic partnership going beyond short-term economic interests, namely the first Gulf war (1980-88) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-89). At the end of the decade, the fall of the Soviet Union provoked a feeling of an Islamist ideological victory in Tehran over the communist atheist ideology. On the whole, this intervention will outline the conflicting dynamics at work in the bilateral relationship between Tehran and Moscow after 1979 between two ideological states at odd regarding their respective objectives to export their revolution. Paradoxically, after 1991, the emergence of a desideologized post-Soviet Russian state facilitated the emergence of a tactical partnership between Tehran and Moscow.