- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

TEHRAN | Ahmad Tajadod makes his early morning tea in a samovar, drives an old Lada car to work, wears a Russian fur hat with ear flaps during cold Tehran winters and serves guests bootleg vodka at parties.

But Mr. Tajadod, an electrician who fixes wires in old houses, is not surprised by Russia‘s recent behavior in Georgia and two breakaway provinces in the Caucasus.

A native of the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, Mr. Tajadod remembers the period after World War II when a Soviet-backed communist party declared Iranian Azerbaijan an autonomous state. Intervention by Britain and the United States helped local forces make the Russians withdraw.

“We do not trust the Russians,” he said.

At a time when the United States is trying to rally world opinion against Russia, Iran is a plausible if unanticipated ally.

The Iranian government and state-influenced media have shown ambivalence about Russia’s recent incursions. Some seem pleased to see a U.S.-encouraged ally, Georgia, lose ground, but there are doubts about Russia’s good intentions

Russia’s recognition of the independence of the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia “was unexpected by the West and seriously shocked them and disturbed them,” wrote the hard-line newspaper Jomhouri-e Eslami (Islamic Republic) last month.

“This was another move by Russia to further belittle the West. When Russia saw the passiveness of Western countries in face of Georgia’s attack, it was encouraged to take revenge on the West who had marched in recent years to Russia’s gates.”

“However it is obvious that neither Russia nor Western countries sympathize with the people,” the newspaper continued.

“Their crocodile tears are to help them gain as much concessions as they can in the international community.”

For all the cultural elements that link the people of Russia and Iran, Iranians do not look at Russia as a real friend.

Many Iranians remember that Russia was the first major foreign state to exploit Iranian weakness, beginning in the mid-18th century.

There has always been concern, particularly in northern Iran, that Russia would seek territorial or political concessions or break promises to Iran at the last minute.

Iranians point to 19th century treaties when Iran, then known as Persia, lost a traditional foothold in Central Asia. Russian soldiers occupied the Aral coast, Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, and Amudarya - all once ruled by Iran.

These concessions - culminating in the Russian shelling of the Iranian parliament and a venerated mosque in the holy city of Mashad in 1911- led to a surge in anti-Russian sentiment across the nation.

One of the most quoted phrases in Iranian history books is the assertion by the Russian czar Peter the Great that Russia aims to have a warm water port in the Persian Gulf.

The quote - “We should get to warm waters by Persian Gulf. Russia would be a true empire with such an achievement” - underlines the depth of anti-Russian feeling here.

Even Iranians who study in Russia are ambivalent about the country.

Sajjad, who preferred to be identified only by his first name, said he is studying physics in Moscow but not comfortable there.

“Everyone is always criticizing me for all those crimes the Russians have committed before,” he said.

He is also suspicious about Russian intentions.

“They kept my country from becoming industrialized and developed,” he said.

Anger against Russia does not necessarily translate into support for the West.

The United States and the European Union “are doing the same harm Russia has done to us before,” Sajjad said.

Cut off from economic and military ties with the West by sanctions, Iran buys weapons from Russia and also contracted with Moscow to finish a nuclear reactor at the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr that was started by Germany before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Russia has promised to complete the reactor for years but the start of operations at Bushehr is constantly being postponed.

Russian officials now promise that the first phase of the nuclear plant will start by the end of the year.

Mr. Tajadod is doubtful.

“Electricity from the Russian-made plant will not flow through my wires for years,” he said.

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