Even during the more isolated point of the Soviet Union's post civil war history 1921-the early thirties, it was still in diplomatic and contact with a host of nominally anti-communist powers, including many of the losers of the Versailles Treaty. These secret contacts and treaties allowed it to materially survive and reinforced its sense of being the 'go to' power over its own territory, a prime goal of any state. By 1991, with its satellites vanishing, China and the eastern branch of the Comintern paralysed by recent strife and former clients moving sideways, its isolation was palpable. Quarantined alone with growing and crippling social problems and nose diving legitimacy, the elites had no other place to turn but inept coups and then ignominious exit. Onwards to the dustbin et al.
It was Carter's refusal to continue to support the 'Great King' that saw off the Pahlavis. Similarly Marcos and Suharto did not last much beyond the removal of the US 'mandate'. I very much doubt if China decided North Korea did not have a geo-political function anymore, it wouldn't last much more than a year.
Whilst the situation in Iran does not seem to approach the total existential crisis of the Soviet regime, the multiplicity of elites that make up the regime would fear real isolation. Of course, I don't mean isolation from the west. Western powers since the fall of the Shah and the rise of the intrinsically 'anti-Imperialist' Islamic Republic have had few cards to play. With a structurally imposed thirst for oil and gas and little in the way of diplomatic and economic levers over Iran, the west, in terms of governments, kind of doesn't matter, except in a negative way. Believe me, I am no fan of 'engagement', or state sanctioned dictator rim-jobbing, but the fact remains. The power of external support and thus elite self-belief rests on Russia and China.
Whilst China provides a still insatiable market for Iranian raw materials, Russia provides technical backing and support for the military. Without these props, the regular military could not keeps itself armed against Great and various Little Satans and continue to support its proxies. Similarly, Oil revenue is the life blood of the entire state. Take away the thirstiest market and you effect ever arm of the Iranian system. The mandate of continued Chinese and Russian support is the keystone to the ability of the Regime to remain unreformed and repress. Alas, I couldn't think of two powers less likely to take a stance in favour of the people
States are not really design to be moral agents in International affairs and the CCP and the 'managed democracy' of Russia are a-moral agents par excellent. The heirs of Deng Xiaoping are not known for their sympathy towards street protest either. Indeed, China's new economy and society is based of purposely 'forgetting' events such as those in Tehran today. The ghost of June 4th must haunt Beijing's imaginings when looking at those 'tweets', mobile photo shots of blood covered hands, grainy pictures of innocents killed. If technology had allowed such samizdat coverage of Tienanmen, how much more deadly to the regime it might have been, how much harder to erase? For the CCP, failing to back Iran might well be as toxic as Vergennes' support of the colonies. As studious historians of the Great Revolution of 1789, the Politburo of the CCP will undoubtedly see the parallel.
James Fallow has some thoughts on the currently 'muted' Chinese official reaction
One of the few pieces to emerge merely regurgitates the theocrats' 'The West did it' narrative
Russia, whilst it may lack such a painful spectre of crowd power, is well at home with 'extra-democratic' measures. Even before the rise of FSB veteran and Judo fan Vladimir, the illegal dissolution of the Russian Parliament in 1993 and the subsequent deaths of at least 187 people demonstrated an 'ambivalence' towards democratic norms. Indeed, one detects a certain sorrow amongst the 'managers' that the Soviet Union's demise and the birth of the Russian federation were performed on the streets in 1991. Just as blowing the shit out of the Duma with a T72 shows a certain lack of care with protests over popular power, so the continued killing of opponents and journalists address a fundamental lack of sympathy with those resisting oppression.
Whilst the depictions of the struggle in Iran within the mostly state control media have been wider than in China, they have still conformed to the Mullah's take. Arminadinnerjacket was the winner, protests are merely sore losers and next! etc. Bearing in mind the very low standard set by the Russian state for its own 'free and fair' elections, that is hardly a surprise. There have been a few hints of alternative readings, the results being 'shaky' for instance, but it is a minor story, soon to be forgotten and filed away.
Depressing given the key nature of both. However, both regimes would not stand for extended chaos. That would be a vast disruption to Russia's Great Game playing, and China's supply concerns. If the struggle cannot be easily repressed, if the bouts of protest followed by crackdown followed by protests become systemic, like in 1979, then the picture changes. Iran ceases to be a welcome customer of arms and purveyor of oleaginous goodness a bit under the weather and becomes a liability. Such an unpredictable maelstrom would not only be a destabilising element in western assumptions and power politics but a serious threat to both Chinese and Russian geo-politics.
I hope such attrition, or more rightly an awful contest between protesters' bones and slowly eroding batons need not come to past. Cracks in the elites and those who serve within the institutions of state have appeared. IF what John Simpson says is
then the internal doubt needed to end any regime may be spreading.
Either way, it will be a contest of will. Truth, justice and plain old boring humanity are on the protesters side. The longer they can heroically hold out (Please let it not be too long), the base nature of geo-politics, that usual arena of the a-moral and merely evil, might well come to their aid too