Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to visit Iran for a two-day visit this week, scheduled to begin on Wednesday and last until the end of the week. The visit comes after Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, invited him to Iran. It is important for both countries because the Islamic Republic is still facing Western sanctions, and Tehran wants to increase trade with Moscow.
There are a variety of important issues on the table, including the following: Russia is at war in Ukraine and is also suffering Western sanctions. Both countries are close friends with China, and both want to overturn the US-led global world order, remaking a multi-polar world in the shape of the pre-1990 world order. There are ramifications for the Middle East, for any potential Iran deal and for other issues.
There is also the issue of Syria, where some reports say Russia may be drawing down troops, emboldening Iran. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has condemned recent Israeli airstrikes on Damascus Airport. That means Iran may prod Russia to be more assertive in Syria.
Iranian media is proud of the visit by the Russian. Lavrov has found himself out in the cold in Europe, and so Iran is a natural destination. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has indicated that the countries will discuss “international issues,” including the Iran Deal as well as Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan, which recently suffered a terrible earthquake. In addition, Iran has been bragging in recent days about energy exports to China.
Iran’s foreign minister was in Russia in March, and has visited the country twice in the last year.
“Lavrov was the first foreign minister to send a congratulatory message to Hussein Amir-Abdollahian, the government’s foreign minister,” Iran’s Fars News says. Russia was also among the first to congratulate the new Iranian president on his victory.
Iran and Russia have discussed the security situation around Afghanistan in recent months. While the West tends to see Iran through the nuclear lens or its threats to the Middle East, Tehran is increasingly looking east toward China and Afghanistan. Iran has wanted to play a greater role in Afghanistan since the US left. It also opened a drone factory in Tajikistan, and wants a greater role in Central Asia.
It’s true that Iran also continues to initiate threats to Israel and other countries in the Middle East, such as the recent harassment of US naval ships, but it’s important to realize that the Tehran worldview is not solely looking West.
Iran is pleased to see that Russia has objected to a recent IAEA Board of Governors report about its nuclear program. According to Iranian media, President Ebrahim Raisi spoke with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin about the “agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.” Russia opposes the stance of other European countries and the US regarding the Iran nuclear deal talks.
Iran sees the Russia relationship as key to its policies. The Iranian foreign minister has stressed how close the current ties are. “We hope to enhance this capacity for sustainable growth and development and security in all parts of the region through ongoing interaction and consultation between the two countries,” Amir-Abdollahian has said.
He also believes that working with Russia is a priority of the current Iranian government, and sees the two countries as having “strategic” level ties. “We agreed to review the strategic document of cooperation between the two countries in the near future, and as a new road map in relations between the two countries, this document will be the basis of our long-term cooperation.”
It is believed, in Iran’s media, that Putin and his Iranian counterpart will meet again. Raisi was in Russia in January. “We consider Russia a strategic partner for Iran, and believe that Russia is a priority in the balanced foreign policy of the 13th government,” said the Iranian Foreign Ministry. “We hope that the growing cooperation between the two countries will reach its best in the not too distant future.”
Russia-Iran trade is increasing, and the Islamic Republic expects more Russian investment. According to Iran’s figures, the trade between the countries has doubled in the last several years. The Iranian ambassador to Russia “also announced that the Russian Export Development Center in Iran would be set up soon, and stressed the need for face-to-face and unmediated trade talks between the two countries’ businessmen,” according to the Fars News report.
Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria
THE MEDIA reports don’t go into much detail about what Iran and Russia have in mind for Syria, they only say the two “cooperate.” The reports also mention the Astana Process, which is supposed to be taking place with Turkey, to bring some kind of settlement or peace to Syria. However, Ankara is threatening a new invasion of northern Syria, so it’s not clear how well the process is working.
Russia and Iran have also discussed Ukraine. Tehran has said it is ready to help mediate, but it’s not clear if Moscow wants mediation. Iran has backed attempts for a ceasefire and its president has expressed hope for an end to the conflict in Ukraine.
“As the Islamic Republic of Iran, we are trying, between Ukraine and Russia, to advance the Ukrainian crisis as soon as possible through negotiations and a political solution by understanding the founders and roots of this crisis,” its foreign minister has said.
The Russia-Iran connection matters to the region. This is because other countries there have not taken a tough US-led line on the Ukraine war. Most prefer to hedge their bets. That means the Gulf states, as well as Iraq, Lebanon and other countries, prefer decent relations with Russia.
While US President Joe Biden is expected to visit the region next month, that hasn’t changed the overall view in the Middle East that Russia is an actor that should be respected. Regarding Israel, this matters, because the Jewish state is now heading for an election while continuing to oppose Iran’s entrenchment in Syria.
In addition, the key role Russia has played in the nuclear talks matters a great deal. Moscow has tried to play both sides in the past, working with the US and the European states, but also quietly backing Iran. Now it more openly backs Iran as it sees the Islamic Republic and the nuclear issue as one it can use against the West.
In fact, Russia may be holding up progress on a nuclear deal to get around American sanctions. Iran is also holding up the deal to get the IRGC off the US terror list. In short, everyone is now using the nuclear deal for blackmail. This has ramifications for Israel and the upcoming election.