What Putin expects from Iran and why Tehran might be cautious
LONDON (Reuters) – A budding courtship between Russia and Iran is an unwanted development for the West that the United States will watch with concern, but it is a far cry from a geopolitical game-changer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin took advantage of a rare trip abroad on Tuesday – his first outside the former Soviet Union since he launched the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 – to talk to Tehran with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, as well as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
But the fact that Russia and Iran are competing energy producers is likely to limit any deeper partnership, even if the two countries are united in their hostility to the West.
Here’s a look at some of the key questions their developing relationship poses.
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CAN IRAN HELP RUSSIA IN THE UKRAINE WAR?
US officials have said Iran is preparing to help supply Russia with several hundred unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, some of which are capable of firing weapons, but neither country has confirmed this. . Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying that Putin had not discussed the issue with Iranian leaders.
“Russia is deepening an alliance with Iran to kill Ukrainians is something that the whole world should consider and see as a deep threat,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week.
Ukraine used Bayraktar drones supplied by Turkey to lethal effect to target Russian units and destroy huge amounts of tanks and other armored vehicles. Jack Watling, a warfare expert at the RUSI think tank in London, said Iranian drones would be useful to Russia both for reconnaissance and as loitering munitions that can bide their time to locate and engage suitable targets. .
“Beyond the supply of drones, Iran can also help Russia evade sanctions and potentially collaborate in the manufacture of weapons systems less dependent on supply chains passing through Western countries,” he said. -he declares.
WHAT CAN RUSSIA LEARN FROM IRAN ABOUT SANCTIONS?
Iran has many years of experience defending against Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. “The Russians see Iran as very experienced and a potentially valuable partner in evading Western sanctions,” Watling said.
Russia, meanwhile, has been hit with waves of sanctions against banks, companies and individuals because of the war in Ukraine. Both countries therefore lack access to Western technology and capital, said Janis Kluge of the SWP think tank in Berlin.
“There might be lessons Russia can learn from Iran… In exchange, Russia might offer military goods and possibly raw materials or grain,” he said. Russia is already a major wheat supplier to Tehran.
With some Russian banks cut off from the SWIFT international payment system, Moscow is developing an alternative in which Iranian banks could be included, Kluge said.
More broadly, Iran is part of a larger group of countries – also including China, India, Latin America and Arab and African countries – with which Russia is forging stronger ties in an effort to prove that it can thrive under sanctions and that these will only rebound on the West.
HOW CAN RUSSIA AND IRAN COOPERATE IN THE FIELD OF ENERGY?
This is a potentially sensitive issue: both countries are oil and gas producers, and competition between them has intensified since the start of the war in Ukraine, with Russia transferring more of its oil exports to China and India at unbeatable prices.
“Economically, the war has made their relationship much worse. Moscow eats Tehran’s lunch on commodity markets and has even fewer resources to spend on projects in Iran,” said Henry Rome, deputy director of the research at Eurasia Group.
Coinciding with Putin’s visit, however, the National Iranian Oil Company and Russia’s Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding worth around $40 billion under which Gazprom will help NIOC develop two gas fields and six oil fields, as well as participating in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and construction of export pipelines.
WILL ANYTHING CHANGE IN THE NUCLEAR TALKS IN IRAN?
The war in Ukraine has changed Moscow’s approach to talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
Eleven months of talks to reinstate the deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, reached their final stage in March. But they were upset by a last-minute Russian demand for written guarantees from Washington that Western sanctions targeting Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine would not affect its trade with Iran.
Although Russia quickly withdrew under Iranian pressure, diplomatic momentum for a deal was lost. Talks have stalled since then on various outstanding issues.
The possibility of getting the deal back on track will be a measure of the impact of Putin’s rapprochement with Iran’s leaders.
“Russia’s interference in the JCPOA talks was a significant reversal of the traditional Russian approach and likely raised suspicions in Tehran about Moscow’s reliability and loyalty,” Eurasia Group’s Rome said.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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