Each of us looks at the world through our own glasses. The same developments can appear quite differently when examined through a different set of eyes. Parker, a division chief at the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research, situates Iranian-Russian relations within the context of Russian politics, in which U.S. concerns are often peripheral or irrelevant. He shows how Moscow's concerns were, on the whole, entirely different from those of Washington. Russia was preoccupied by developments that are usually given only glancing reference in U.S. eyes—in particular, the 1992-97 civil war in Tajikistan—while it relegated to second-order importance the U.S.-centric 1990-91 confrontation with Saddam Hussein over Kuwait. The Russian reading makes sense when viewing the world from Moscow. In its first (and bloodiest) year, the Tajik civil war resulted in 25,000 deaths and threatened to spill over into several other Central Asian states, making it much more important to Russia than the events in far-off Kuwait.
Parker has done extraordinarily meticulous research including many interviews with key Russian actors, and he makes careful comparisons between what various Russian politicians wrote or said. He structures his account around Russia's changing political scene and its shifting interests. For an American used to thinking of the United States as the indispensable superpower of the post-Cold-War era, it can be humbling to realize that Russia was pursuing an agenda with Iran without much reference to Washington's concerns. Moscow's motives in its relations with Tehran were not intended to block Washington but arose simply from insufficient concern about the U.S. agenda—Russia's attention was focused on other issues.
To be sure, the United States has often played an important role in Russia-Islamic Republic relations, but the reasons seem usually to have been Iran's interests rather than Russia's. In particular, it was to check Washington that Iran reached out to the USSR for a strategic relationship in 1989, a relationship about which Moscow was never particularly excited. In any event, the relationship did not last long; the collapse of the Soviet Union and Iran's economic difficulties overtook the plans for rebuilding the Iranian military with Soviet arms. Another interesting U.S. role was that played in Iran's 1983 vicious repression of the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party in 1983 and the related expulsion of top Soviet diplomats, which were based on information passed to Tehran by the CIA after the defection to the U.K. of a Soviet KGB agent in Iran.
Parker's concluding chapter presents convincing evidence that Russia is and will remain vastly more important to Iran than Iran is to Russia. The Islamic Republic needs a counterweight to the United States while Russia sees Iran as a sometimes problematic country, which can be of use on some occasions and on some issues.