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Iran after president's death and chances for rift with Russia: Expert opinion

Iran after president's death and chances for rift with Russia: Expert opinion Deceased Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (photo: Getty Images)

After Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died, the country could theoretically improve its relations with Europe, but his death would not affect relations with Russia. It all depends on who is allowed to run in the early presidential election, as Iliya Kusa, an analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, told RBC-Ukraine.

Yesterday's crash of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and several top officials is a classic black swan in world politics. Since the first hours after the helicopter crash, when it was not even clear whether Raisi had survived, numerous conspiracy theories started emerging, along with sharp predictions that the country could now alter course extremely.

However, Iliya Kusa, speaking to RBC-Ukraine, gives very cautious assessments. He does not believe that the change of president will lead to any changes in relations between Tehran and Moscow, and for Ukraine, this is one of the most important issues in this event. The following is Iliya Kusa's direct speech.

On electing a new president

The election will be a stressful event, it may trigger some protests. It will all depend on how it goes, the atmosphere, the candidates, whether moderate candidates will be allowed, or whether it will be like in 2021. But fundamentally, I don't see anything yet, no changes. In general, the figure of the president in Iran is not the main one.

On Raisi's possible successors

If the elites decide to continue the course of electing a conservative president, within the conservatives, it is now either the current Speaker of Parliament Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani, or Khamenei's son. If we take the moderate camp, there is the former Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani and former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. They are heavyweights in their practice, they have popularity, recognition, experience, and all the characteristics that are suitable for running in elections.

On chances of Iran's rapprochement with the West

It is theoretically possible. Moderate reformers have always been in favor of rapprochement with the West, dialogue with the West, returning to the nuclear deal, and seeking ways to normalize relations with the EU and NATO.

It may mean that Iran will try to pursue a more balanced policy and, for example, not get closer to Russia in the future. But all this is still theoretical, these are prospects, as much will depend on what president will be, and how independent he will be in some issues. This is more about a signal if a moderate reformer is elected.

At least relations with Europe may normalize, as relations with the United States and Israel are becoming more complex. This is positive for us (Ukraine - ed.) in any case because it is in our interest that the situation with Iran and the Middle East de-escalates. It would be better if they made a wise decision and tried to balance the political system in Iran. But I don't know yet, I can't say that this is a very likely option.

On Iran-Russia relations

It did not depend on the Iranian president. Ebrahim Raisi, in my opinion, was not a key figure in promoting rapprochement with Russia. Plus, their situational partnership depends more on the international situation it was formed. I cannot say that if it were not for Raisi, it would not have happened. I am sure that no matter who would have been president, it would have happened anyway. So I think nothing will change in the Russian direction.

On speculations about the crash

As soon as it happened, there were a lot of fakes. The narratives were contradictory - the Azerbaijani trail, the Israeli trail, the American trail, or the internal trail.

So far, nothing has been confirmed. I do not see anything that would suggest that this was a sabotage. Iran is very cautious about the issue, they are not shaking things up. We need to observe for a few days to see if they will spread any message.

The helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi happened Sunday, May 19, in the north of the country. RBC-Ukraine has compiled all the information known so far.