Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Iran's Khomeini Was a Russophile

The above was posted by Paul Goble on his blog April 1st. It is entitled, “Iran’s Khomeini Was a Russophile, KGB Resident in Tehran Says.”

“Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution whose regime was formally inaugurated 30 years ago today, was a committed Russophile, according to the retired KGB officer who served as that organization’s resident in Tehran before and during that time.”

” Leonid Shebarshin, who retired from the Soviet intelligence service as a much-decorated lieutenant general and who now heads his own company, talks about his years of service in Iran, 1979-1983 ( ).”

“In May 1979, just before he departed for Tehran, Shebarshin says that he was told by KGB chief and future CPSU leader Yury Andropov that ‘left progressive forces [in Iran] had no chance of coming to power and that many years would be required for Iranians to become disappointed in the theocracy.’

“. . . Shebarshin describes what he says were the “intelligent and pragmatic” qualities of the Iranian leaders who maintained their economic relations with the Soviet Union and did not force out most Soviet workers in the country, although Tehran did force all Americans and most Europeans to do so. . . .”

“At the end of December 1979, after Moscow had sent its forces into Afghanistan, the Soviet ambassador in Tehran travelled to Khomeini’s residence in Qum to explain why Moscow had taken the decision to intervene and to discuss the possible consequences of that action for Soviet-Iranian relations. ‘The imam attentively listened to [the Soviet diplomat] and then said: “You are making a big error!” And in general, [the Iranian leader] turned out to be right,’ Shebarshin acknowledges. But then the former KGB officer makes the following declaration: ‘Imam Khomeini was a Russophile, however strange this may seem’ to those who do not know the history of Iran.

“’Of course, the ayatollah was “an opponent of godless socialism, but [he was also] a man who had great respect for northern neighbor and belonged to an [Iranian] Russophile family. “At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century,” Shebarshin explains, “Iranian society was approximately equally divided between Anglophiles and Russophiles.”

“And it turned out that “already his upbringing in childhood and youth led Ruholla al-Musavi al-Khomini to relate to Russia with respect,” a background Moscow and its KGB clearly recognized, valued, and exploited but one that many people elsewhere not only did not know but considered absolutely impossible.’”


It was possible to know something of what Shebarshin knew about Khomeini based on a different line of reasoning. Khomeini loved Stalinist tactics. The same thing can be said about Sayyid Qutb who was the Islamist philosopher of the Sunnis. They both loved the way Stalin operated. We know that during the Second world war, there was a lot of fondness for the Nazis because of their hatred of the Jews and Sayyid Qutb, at least, seemed to take from both the Nazis and the Stalinists in formulating his Islamist ideology.

Knowing that the Islamists owed a great deal to Soviet tactics, both domestic and foreign, did I take the next step and assume that meant that Khomeini liked Russians? No, I didn’t know that. I knew more about Sayyid Qutb than I did Khomeini and Sayyid Qutb’s liking of Soviet tactics while sitting in an Egyptian jail was a disembodied sort of thing. He never had a chance to put his ideas into practice or to show a preference for a non-Islamic people. And yet he and his followers did have a great respect for the Soviets. That is without doubt. Osama bin Laden believed he was fighting against the greatest enemy of Islam when he fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan; such that when the Soviets left in defeat he thought that nothing could stop the relentless role of Islam as it conquered the rest of the world. He thought the US would be easier to defeat than the USSR. He defeated (according to him) the USSR in Afghanistan and expected to defeat the US in Iraq.

Now I wonder about something else. If much of Iranian society was Russophile, what of the many Islamic nations on both sides of present-day-Russia’s borders? Looking at a map I would think Russia had great cause to be worried about Islamism, but perhaps the nations that seem ripe for Islamist picking are also Russophile. But if so, we must ask, does Russophilia trump Islamism?

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