In the West, the Iranian elections and ensuing opposition protests are seen as yet more proof of Iran's perfidy. Russia views things differently -- and welcomed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with open arms on Tuesday.
The View from Russia
Iranian Leader Finds Support in Yekaterinburg
By Uwe Klussmann in Moscow
"Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears," is the name of a Soviet-era film that remains popular in Russia. The sentiment itself has not gone out of fashion, particularly when it comes to the tears shed by the Iranian opposition, which -- to go by official results -- lost last Friday's presidential election to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Instead, the powers that be in Moscow assume that Ahmadinejad will remain in office for the foreseeable future. "We welcome the newly re-elected Iranian president on Russian soil," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov upon Ahmadinejad's arrival at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on Tuesday. "We see this visit as a reflection of partner-like, neighborly and traditionally friendly relations between Moscow and Tehran."
The welcome was a clear sign of the Kremlin's interest in distancing itself from the Iranian opposition and the ongoing demonstrations in Tehran. Images of protesters carrying English-language signs on the streets of the Iranian capital have energized many observers in the West, but in Moscow the reactions have been more of a wait-and-see nature. The marches awaken associations of the American-supported "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine, both of which resulted in increased tensions with Russia.
Still, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has sought to avoid the impression that he is completely on Ahmadinejad's side. A planned bilateral meeting between the two was cancelled this week. Russia, like China, is not nearly as skeptical of Ahmadinejad as many in Europe and the US, but the relationship resembles a pragmatic partnership more than a love affair. Indeed, even as Russia and Iran have a strong, security-based strategic partnership, Moscow has not shied away from criticizing Ahmadinejad in the past. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for example, recently said the Iranian president's repeated denial of the Holocaust is "completely unacceptable."
Mostly, Moscow is grateful for that which Iran does not say or do. Tehran has long avoided any efforts to export its Islamic revolution to predominately Muslim parts of Russia -- a policy which has earned the Iranians bitter condemnation from Chechen separatists. Furthermore, Iran was instrumental in facilitating the negotiations that brought an end to a post-Cold War conflict in Tajikistan in 1997.
Indeed, Moscow's position is that Iran could end up being a stabilizing factor in Central Asia, by providing reconstruction aid to Afghanistan or Iraq, for example. Russian strategists are also aware that the path toward negotiation with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip leads through Tehran.
Above all, though, Russia values Iran as a business partner. In addition to a healthy arms trade, Iran is a valued customer for Russian nuclear technology. Indeed, the nuclear reactor in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr was built by Russian engineers, with the spent fuel rods returned to Russia for processing. Experts in Moscow are confident that the reactor could not be used to produce highly-enriched uranium of the kind necessary to build a nuclear weapon.
Russia has long urged the West to remain calm when it comes to Iran's alleged yearnings for atomic weapons. Moscow insists that its secret service has no evidence that the country is close to building a bomb. The Russians are concerned about the possibility, to be sure. But Foreign Minister Lavrov has also made it be known that he is equally bothered by the prospect of an Israeli military strike against Iran. In short, Moscow does not see Iran as a regional flashpoint for instability -- meaning that, from the north, the current mass protests in the country's largest cities look more like a threat than an opportunity. A publication called Red Star, put out by the Russian Defense Ministry, recently elucidated its reasons for viewing Ahmadinejad as a force for stability. "It is because the majority of Iranians see Ahmadinejad as a man of the people who more or less represents the interests of low-wage earners," the paper wrote. Ahmadinejad stands for "simple words and simple ideas that are understandable to the poor in both the cities and the countryside."
Robert Tait and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Tehran
Monday 15 June 2009 21.35 BST
At least 12 people may have died in violent clashes with Iran's security forces following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election, according to reports from the country.
The reported fatalities have come amid a brutal crackdown on students, apparently aimed at quelling a wave of campus rebellions that authorities fear could spill over to the wider population.
A Farsi website, Balatarin, carried an unconfirmed report that seven people had been killed in the southern city of Shiraz following confrontations with riot police at the local university. Five busloads of plainclothes officers had been sent to confront the demonstrators during Sunday's protests, but were said to have been unable to prevent them from being joined by members of the public and marching to one of the city's main squares. It is unclear whether all those said to have died were students.
The Guardian understands that five students may also have died in clashes at Tehran University early on Sunday. The students – named as Fatemeh Barati, Kasra Sharafi, Mobina Ehterami, Kambiz Shoaee and Mohsen Imani – are believed to have been buried today in Behesht-e-Zahra, a famous cemetery in Tehran, reportedly without their families being informed.
Autnews, a student website, claimed that plain clothes officers used firearms against students after forcing their way onto the campus. Students were said to have sought refuge in toilets after police raided halls of residence, where rooms were ransacked and beds set on fire.
Tonight Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran's parliament, appointed a committee of MPs to investigate the reports.
The reported fatalities appeared to be backed up by one witness, who said a force of around 300 plainclothes and riot police joined basij forces (militia volunteers) to attack the students.
"We had nowhere to hide but the toilets and bathrooms, and they shouted: 'You traitors to the Islamic republic, you bastards, leave the building or we'll shoot you all.' Many students were severely wounded – we could hear injured students groaning and shouting for help," the witness said.
"At 3am they announced on loudspeakers: 'If you evacuate the building we won't harm you. Otherwise, you'll all be injured or killed.' All the students then came out of the building in lines, with their hands on their heads. The police hit them with batons and some started to shout that they had conquered the dorms. Eventually they let us go back to our rooms but at least 10 had been shot, some appeared to have been killed and hundreds were injured."
Another witness, Majidreza Sobhani, 21, a mechanical engineering student, said police smashed locks to force their way into students' rooms. "I can't describe what they did to me and friends. Just go to our dorms and see what our rooms look like," he said.
Violent incidents were reported at Isfahan University, where 60 students were taken into custody following clashes that left halls of residence badly damaged. Some students were said to have been injured after being thrown from upstairs windows.
Protests also took place at Hamedan University and Babol University in Mazandaran province on the Caspian Sea, where demonstrations are said to have spread to four towns after police attacked students.
Riot police surrounded the campus of Tabriz University, which has historically been a hotbed of radical protest.
Anger was apparent too at Amir Kabir University in Tehran, where Ahmadinejad was forced to flee the campus after angry protests more than two years ago. Some 150 lecturers and around 500 students staged a sit-in at the campus mosque, mirroring an action by academics at another Tehran institution, Sharif University, on Sunday.
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Ahmadinejad's supporters rally in Tehran
Iran orders partial vote recount amid continued protests
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | 12:21 PM ET
Thousands of supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flooded the streets of Tehran on Tuesday as the country's Guardian Council ordered a recount of some ballot boxes from the disputed presidential election.
The demonstrators gathered at Vali Asr Square for the state-organized rally, which demanded punishment for rioters in Monday's clashes, state television reported.
"This nation will protect and defend its revolution in any way," Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a prominent legislator and Ahmadinejad supporter, told the crowd.
Waving flags and placards, the pro-government supporters gathered ahead of a protest expected to be held in the same square by reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's backers, who have made allegations of vote-rigging after Friday's election results showed the president winning by a 2-to-1 margin.
Iranian authorities have restricted all journalists working for foreign media from first-hand reporting on the streets in an attempt to block images and eyewitness accounts from the rallies.
"We are being told that we are supposed to stay in our offices or hotel rooms and report just on what the official media is reporting," Washington Times report Iason Fowder told CBC News from Tehran.
In a message posted on his website, Mousavi said he will not be at the rally and urged his supporters not to attend "to protect their lives."
Iranians must "not fall in the trap of street riots" and need to exercise "self-restraint," Mousavi told his supporters.
Seven people were shot dead on Monday as more than 100,000 opponents of Ahmadinejad defied government orders that banned a rally Monday and marched through Tehran to Azadi Square.
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, arrived in Russia on Tuesday to attend a regional security summit, after postponing the trip for one day due to the civil protests.
Amid the growing violence — the worst in Tehran in 10 years — Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for the 12-member Guardian Council, was quoted on state television Tuesday as saying recounts will be conducted at voting sites where candidates claim irregularities occurred.
The ballots will be recounted in the presence of the candidates' representatives, Kadkhodaei said.
It is not immediately clear which voting sites will be included in the recount.
Election results must be authorized by the council, which is composed of clerics closely allied with unelected supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All three of Ahmadinejad's challengers in the election have alleged fraud after results showed the president winning by a landslide.
According to government officials, Ahmadinejad won 62.6 per cent of the vote, while reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi garnered 33.75 per cent in a contest that appeared to divide urban and rural voters.
Khamenei ordered the Guardian Council to investigate the results on Monday.
Following the announcement, representatives for the three candidates — Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezaei — met with officials from the Guardian Council on Tuesday and demanded that a full investigation still be conducted.
Mousavi's representative, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, said the reformers still want to see the election held again.
Though the Guardian Council has ruled out reformist demands to annul the election, "It is possible that there may be some changes in the tally after the recount," Kadkhodaei said.
Mousavi has said he is not optimistic about the outcome of the investigation into the results.
"Many of its [Guardian Council] members during the election were not impartial and supported the government candidate," he wrote on his website, referring to Ahmadinejad.
Claims of voting irregularities went to the council after Ahmadinejad's upset victory in 2005, but there was no official word on the outcome of the inquiry, and the vote stood.