As a result of the Russian-NATO talks, Moscow warned its partners about the possibility of various “answers” to the unwillingness of the alliance countries to take the discussion seriously. And some of the answers are likely to be identified as early as January, when the Russian diplomatic marathon continues with negotiations with Iran.
The new president of the Islamic Republic, Ibrahim Raisi, is coming to Moscow on a visit.
Yes, there are controversial points between Iran and Russia – in particular, the parties are competitors in the oil market, and also have different views on the principles of resolving the Syrian conflict (if the Kremlin is ready to resolve the situation taking into account the interests of the West and the Gulf countries, then the Iranians are not going to respect the interests of those who ignited the civil war). However, the common interests of the two countries are so great and important that the main items on the agenda are precisely joint activities in a number of regions and areas. Therefore, formally, the main purpose of the trip is the signing of an agreement on strategic partnership between Iran and Russia until 2041. In fact, the Iranian side really wants to fill this partnership with practical content.
First of all, in economic terms. It’s no secret that at the current level of political relations, the economy has always been a weak point in Russian-Iranian relations – Russian and Iranian companies did not understand the principles of the neighbor’s market, and were also afraid to fall under US sanctions for working in this market. According to some reports, the government of Ibrahim Raisi has decided to take seriously the correction of this economic disparity and will bring to Moscow a number of proposals that it will leave to Russian officials for consideration.
In addition, countries can obviously cooperate in the transit of energy resources. Like China, Iran is very concerned about the US maritime dominance, so Tehran occasionally has ideas to put its gas through pipes, for example, through Syria or even Russia (if we are talking about the Caspian fields). And if on the territory of Iran, according to local laws, the entire infrastructure must be kept strictly by the Iranian state, then Russian companies, which have tremendous experience in this, can well pull the pipe through neighboring countries. And at the same time, they do not help a competitor at all – due to volumes and gradual disappointment in fairy tales about “affordable and cheap green energy”, there will be enough space for everyone on the European gas market.
However, in addition to the economy and energy, the Iranians want to deepen the already quite deep military-political cooperation with Moscow. There are different groups in the Iranian elite with different points of view – sometimes even diametrically opposed.
However, there is consensus on some issues, including the need to develop cooperation with the Russian Federation on the principles of non-interference in internal affairs declared by the Kremlin and opposition to the attempts of the West to save the unipolar world. Moreover, a number of recent events have only strengthened Tehran’s desire to cooperate with Moscow. First of all, this is the “contract of the century” concluded between Iran and China, which implies not only hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese investments, but also a certain degree of Tehran’s dependence on Beijing.
No wonder the ayatollahs want to diversify their ties to Russia. In addition, the changes in the South Caucasus after them Second Karabakh War and the sharp rise of Turkey are also very worrying for the Iranian side. Yes, the Iranians support the same Turkish 3 + 3 initiative (under which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia should decide matters in the South Caucasus), but they very much suspect that Turkey sees itself in it as “more equal than everyone else.” Well, or at least stronger than everyone else – and Iran is very worried about this, since Ankara has repeatedly tried to play with Azerbaijani nationalism in the northern Iranian provinces.
Finally, the third moment stimulating Iran to cooperate with Moscow was, of course, the tough, fast, decisive and timely completed CSTO operation in Kazakhstan. The Russian Federation has proved that it is ready to maintain order on its periphery, including by military means. And, most importantly, we are ready to do this together with our allies and partners. Moscow and Tehran have a very long experience of jointly countering terrorism in Syria, and it is possible that it will be repeated in other regions important for both countries.
“Drying” and other toys
Actually, there is a lot of space for joint actions. This includes Afghanistan, where Moscow and Tehran (perhaps even together with China) must decide how, when and under what conditions to recognize the Taliban* government, and then determine the terms of cooperation with it. This, after all, is Syria, where Iran and Russia need to complete the process of political settlement and, more importantly, decide on interaction on Syrian territory after the war. On the one hand, of course, Iran perceives Syria as its exclusive sphere of influence, where the interests of all other countries should not be present – not only Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but also Russia. However, on the other hand, the Iranians take a sober look at the situation and understand that the interests of Moscow and Tehran on Syrian territory do not contradict each other.
Moscow does not dispute Iranian control over Assad’s fiefdom, is not going to “liberalize” the Syrian leadership and teach them who to be friends with. In addition, the long-term military presence of Russia in Syria complicates any military-political plans of the Americans and Turks in the Levant (and in the Middle East as a whole). Therefore, even by themselves, Russian military bases help and will continue to help the Iranians in neutralizing external threats.
However, one of the most important areas of cooperation is Russian weapons – and it is this, according to some sources, that is almost the main purpose of Mr. Raisi’s visit to Moscow. During an October visit to Russia, the head of the Iranian General Staff, Mohammad Bagheri, is rumored to have indicated a willingness to conclude large-scale defense contracts, including the purchase of multi-purpose Su-35s, which are an order of magnitude superior to those in service with the Israeli and Saudi armies. And Iran, apparently, wants to pay for Russian “Sushki” and other military “toys” with hydrocarbons – Russian companies can get access to Iranian gas fields in the Caspian, in particular, to the recently discovered Chalus.
A separate issue is the prospect of Iran buying the Russian S-400 system. The Iranians are more than interested in it, since it practically nullifies Israel’s chances of launching air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. However, until today there was no consensus in the expert community as to whether Russia is ready to sell this system. Moscow’s behind-the-scenes agreements with Tel Aviv and even with Washington were called stoppers. Now the chances of its sale have slightly increased – Moscow promised the Americans to respond to the refusal to take into account its concerns in NATO. And it is possible that the first such answer will be given at the meeting between Putin and Raisi. And, of course, not the last.
*-The organization (organizations) have been liquidated or their activities are prohibited in the Russian Federation
Gevorg Mirzayan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, VIEW