Does the Russian-Iranian axis pose a threat to us all? - opinion

Russia's new reliance on Iran's weapons indicates a close alignment. Together, they are better equipped to bring the West to its knees.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in September (photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in September
(photo credit: SPUTNIK/REUTERS)

News broke in October that Russia had purchased kamikaze drones from Iran so they could be deployed in Ukraine. This formed part of the Kremlin’s military push against Kyiv – thus pulling Tehran into the European-centric conflict. While of course much ink has been spilled denouncing the move, few will find favor with Russia’s new fondness for Iranian military hardware and technology. The issue of such a rapprochement between Moscow and Tehran lies far beyond military cooperation, however, and should in fact be looked upon from an ideological standpoint.

Russia’s fondness for its Persian neighbor goes back several decades, a development we certainly missed. This is because our capitals have always been unwilling to step outside the well-established geopolitical narrative – that Russia and Iran are natural enemies by virtue of geography. Access to natural resources and hegemonic ambitions prevent us from accepting the two could find common ideological ground, thus enabling them to join forces against the West.

Indeed, if Soviet Russia once viewed Iran as a challenge – a prize to add to its sphere of influence – Moscow’s interest was essentially motivated by Iran’s then-alignment with Washington, and a desire to impede capitalism’s territorial expansion against its own ideology. The world has moved on quite a lot since then, but our understanding of the region - may be less so. 

Whatever enmity may have existed between Russia and the Islamic Republic melted long ago. Cold, hard pragmatism – and maybe envy on the part of Vladimir Putin – is likely to have caused this thaw in relations. Putin resented the mullahs’ ability to claim legitimacy by arguing faith rather than by popular consent, something which Putin has been trying so desperately to feign for the duration of his reign. 

Russia’s new reliance on Iran’s weapons – drones and ballistic missiles – indicates a close alignment. If any were needed, this relationship provides proof that the two states have thrown their hats into the ring and agreed that they would, or more pertinently, could challenge the status quo. Together, they are better equipped to make good on their respective ambitions – to bring the West to its knees. It is this common aim which binds the two terrorist states and has fostered an enduring, ideological partnership. 

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022 (credit: PRESIDENT WEBSITE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022 (credit: PRESIDENT WEBSITE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

With little to no indication that the West intends to repel such developments, violence may soon become widespread. In fact, it already has, although maybe not in the sense we would expect, i.e. as a clear declaration of war. Instead, violence is being wreaked through the systematic erosion of our resolve, by coercion, infiltration and propaganda.

Many questions are being asked

How often have we heard politicians and state officials argue for peace in Ukraine by demanding that its people give up territories? Whose interests is this serving? How can we hope to defend the sovereignty of all our borders and assert the rights of states to defend themselves if we capitulate to Russia’s military forays?

We may wish to consider that such surrender to Moscow empowers the Islamic Republic and its line of resistance. The two are allies and are playing to each other’s strengths in order to pose a threat.

There are parallels from which we ought to draw if we are to grasp the extent of the danger we face. Russia and the Islamic Republic do not exist in their respective vacuums anymore. They are both the expression of a similar will – each iterated according to its own respective cultural and religious idiosyncrasies. 

For the better part of the past decade, Putin has studied Iran’s theocratic model. He aims to emulate its formulation with a view to transforming himself into the new holy figure representing legitimacy and power. Those are the ties which bind the two nations. Similarities are also present in the ways in which they force their will, first over their people, and ultimately over those nations which they wish to rule. 

Evidently, Russia is making theocratic overtures. Putin has been eager to use the Orthodox Church as part of his military agenda. Paintings adorn the walls of the chief military church. Rhetoric from a holy crusade of liberation aimed at restoring the sanctity of the Orthodox Christian faith against the infamy of Western heresy has also been shared.As with theocracies, little thought is spared for the people themselves. The main aim is to encourage them to strive to better themselves through both the church and mass media. 

Putin’s Goebbels-like statements have been swallowed whole by gullible Russians who all too easily fall for his intoxicating rhetoric. Today, the Kremlin’s self-proclaimed god, Putin, is revered on Ukraine’s battlefields, where his disciples are only too eager to put their lives on the line for him.

BUT WHAT of terror? The label is certainly unsettling, and yet, it is time we recognize its relevance, so that maybe, just maybe, we will dare to take a stand against it. If we could muster the courage to commit our troops and resources to oppose ISIS advances in Syria and Iraq, we might just find the resolve to do the same against Russia and the Islamic Republic. Ultimately, we may not have much of a choice. The question is on whose terms will it be fought? A defensive war will exhaust our economies and drain our thinning resources, whereas preemptive, targeted strikes may prove more efficient, and less costly.

Terrorism is commonly defined as the use of violence, especially murder and bombing, in order to achieve political aims or to force a government to do something. The shoe certainly fits here. Only recently, Tehran sent its agents to murder British nationals on UK soil, while Russia has held the West to ransom over its energy needs, killing and maiming Ukrainians to better drive its point home.

As is the case with terror, there are those who succumb to it and those who defy it. Against the backdrop of mass power outages caused by unparalleled missile barrages and continued defiance against mortal danger in Ukraine, Hungary chose to succumb, falling in line with Russia and Iran by playing to their narrative.

Through its various outposts, the Russian-Iranian alliance has wielded tremendous influence over our governments, challenging both our sovereignty and our national security. Terror has become the newly appointed weapon of choice, forcing us to retreat behind new red lines.

The recent attack on Poland stands as a perfect example of that. Ultimately, the West’s acceptance that Russia was to blame for the missile explosion would be a welcome step in terms of diplomacy in a world where we are all connected. 

Sadly, the tragic deaths of two Polish citizens, as the result of Russian aggression were insufficient grounds for further NATO involvement. Despite being part of NATO, Poland is clearly on the outside; when attacked, it did not merit a NATO response. 

It is very clear, therefore, that the West does not value the lives of outsiders.

This begs the question: who is on the inside and who is on the outside? 

Where does Hungary stand, for example? Considering the challenges which Hungary presents to the EU and NATO, the answer is unclear.

Has the network of terror reached so far into the mechanisms of power, that a real threat of a Russo-Iranian alliance does not merit an appropriate response? Should it not be a priority to quash the shoots before they develop into a large oak tree? 

The writers are research fellows at the Henry Jackson Society.