Growth of Iran-Russia ties in focus as Putin heads for Tehran | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW
On his second trip abroad since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on July 19.
Putin’s trip to Tehran follows US President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East last week, where Iran and its nuclear program were among the main topics of discussion.
Putin will be joined in Tehran by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the meeting will discuss the situation in Syria, where Iran, Russia and Turkey all have a strong military presence.
But the meeting will also be an opportunity for Moscow and Tehran, both under severe Western sanctions, to show their military and economic cooperation, demonstrating to the West that they are not isolated.
Iran allegedly supplied drones to Russia
Iran and the Kremlin have increasingly found common ground lately, with officials from both countries repeatedly asserting their willingness to expand trade and political cooperation.
Putin’s visit comes about a week after the White House said Tehran was preparing to sell armed drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. Iran said technology cooperation with Russia preceded the war, neither confirming nor denying the US claim.
Russia reportedly solicits Iranian drones for its ongoing war in Ukraine
Amid growing diplomatic isolation, increased trade with Russia could provide relief to Iran’s economy, which has been floundering under US oil and banking sanctions for years. Russia, meanwhile, sees Iran as a potential arms supplier, offering a trade route and expertise to avoid sanctions and export oil.
The war in Ukraine changes the calculations
The military partnership between Tehran and Moscow has grown stronger since the outbreak of the decade-old conflict in Syria.
“But mostly it remained tactical cooperation on issues of mutual interest in the region,” Abdolrasool Divsallar, visiting professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, told DW. .
Russia and Iran have grown closer as both face increasingly tough Western sanctions
Iran’s leaders, especially the hardline conservatives who currently rule the country, have always sought to develop their country’s ties with the Russians, but the war in Ukraine has now made Iran a more central part of Putin’s diplomacy. .
“Competitors in the energy market”
In recent months, trade between the two countries has grown, according to several Iranian media reports.
During a meeting with Iranian President Raisi on the sidelines of a regional summit in Turkmenistan last month, Putin noted that trade between the two countries had increased by 81% last year.
Together with India, Iran and Russia have worked to create a new, shorter trade corridor.
Despite this, relations between the two countries are complicated by energy issues as Russia increasingly squeezes Iran’s market share in its drive to find new buyers for its own oil.
“Russia and Iran are actually business competitors, especially in the energy market,” Hamidreza Azizi, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW.
Currently, Iran appears to be losing its already narrow share of the energy market to Russian oil, which is now offered at a lower price.
Over the past three months, for example, Iran’s monthly exports of petroleum by-products have increased from 430,000 tons to 330,000, said Hamid Hosseini, secretary general of the Union of Iranian Petroleum Exporters, of gas and petrochemical products (OPEX), to the Iranian Labor News Agency. (ILNA) at the end of June.
Iran’s biggest steel buyers, including China and South Korea, have also turned to buying discounted Russian steel, according to the Iranian daily. Chargh announced May 21.
With sanctions severely reducing Iran’s revenue, oil exports are vital for the country, which is now facing an economic crisis. The inflation rate is over 50%, but Iran would have been forced to cut oil prices drastically to keep up with Russian rebates.
“Iran and Russia are not yet allies”
Last March, Russia almost sabotaged the negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iranian nuclear agreement, the resolution of which could lead to the relaxation of certain sanctions against the Iranian economy.
Talks in Vienna appeared to be heading for a deal until Russian negotiators demanded that their trade with Iran be exempted from recent Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
“Iran and Russia are not allies yet,” says Abdolrasool Divsallar. “Iran was reluctant to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, but it repeatedly opposed the war, which is very different from what the allies are supposed to do,” he said. Explain.
Tehran’s stance is based on opposing the war anywhere in the world, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Friday, according to Mehr, an Iranian state news agency.
Iran partner in Russia’s confrontation with the West
Rather than backing Russia’s pursuit of Ukraine, Iran has other motives for getting closer to Moscow, Divsallar said. With nuclear talks now stalled, “Iran might just want to show the West that it has an alternative, that it can have influence that goes beyond the Middle East.”
SWP’s Hamidreza Azizi, on the other hand, said Iran’s rapprochement with Russia stems from a mutual worldview and has continued to deepen over the past decades.
“Both countries position themselves against American domination of international relations and share the ambition to counter it,” Azizi said. “Furthermore, tensions between Iran and Western powers have steadily increased since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.”
US sanctions have severely hampered Iran’s economy but failed to fully isolate the country
Such chronic tensions are unlikely to fade soon, Azizi noted, and will most likely mean Iran will continue to look east.
Unlike Azizi, Divsallar is of the view that a revived nuclear deal and its subsequent sanctions relief could limit Iran’s relationship with Russia by giving the country an opportunity to engage in trade with the West instead. .
“Much of Iran’s motivation to work with Russia is driven by its pressing economic needs and lack of alternatives,” Divsallar said. “Iran cannot reject its relations with Eastern powers like Russia, as long as there are no options in the West.”
Edited by: Jon Shelton