Russia is inching towards Iran at a profoundly critical juncture, specifically when both nations are in a state of unsplendid isolation ~ the first over the war in Ukraine and the second over nuclear proliferation. Russian President Vladimir Putin won robust support from the government in Tehran on Tuesday for his country’s military campaign in Ukraine, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei saying the West opposes an independent and strong Russia. In his reckoning, if Russia hadn’t sent troops into Ukraine, it would have faced an attack from Nato, a statement that echoed Putin’s own rhetoric and reflected increasingly close ties between Moscow and Tehran as they both face crippling Western sanctions. Nato allies have bolstered their military presence in Eastern Europe and provided Ukraine with weapons to help counter the Russian attack.
In only his second trip abroad since Russia launched the military action in February, President Putin conferred with the Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the conflict in Syria, and he used the trip to discuss a U.N.-backed proposal to resume exports of Ukrainian grain to ease the global food crisis. Turkey, a Nato member, has found itself opposite Russia in bloody conflicts in Syria and Libya. It has even sold lethal drones that Ukrainian forces have used to attack Russian troops. But Ankara hasn’t imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, making it a sorely needed partner for Moscow.
Mr Putin’s trip to Tehran is marked by a degree of pregnant symbolism for the Russian domestic audience as well, showing off Russia’s international clout even as it grows increasingly isolated and plunges deeper into confrontation with the West. It comes just days after President Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia ~ Tehran’s primary rivals. From Jerusalem and Jeddah, Mr Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to push back on Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence that has expanded with the perception of America’s retreat from the region. It was a tough sell. Israel maintains good relations with Mr Putin, a necessity given Russian presence in Syria, Israel’s northeastern neighbour and frequent target of its airstrikes. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have declined to pump more oil beyond a plan approved by their energy alliance with Moscow.
But countries, despite their long-standing rivalries, could agree on drawing closer to counter Iran, which has rapidly advanced its nuclear programme ever since Donald Trump abandoned Tehran’s atomic accord with world powers and reimposed crushing sanctions. Talks to restore the deal have hit a deadlock. Backed into a corner by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is ramping up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent and grabbing headlines with optimistic, hardline stances intended to keep the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. Without sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become one of survival.