After the Wagner rebellion in Russia, Moscow and Tehran drew even closer together. Russia’s Defense Minister Shoigu was invited to Tehran. Cooperations are expanded.
Shortly after the armed uprising of the Wagner mercenaries in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned Iranian Prime Minister Ebrahim Raisi. The Kremlin said Monday, June 26, that Iran’s president “pledged his full support to the leadership of the Russian Federation.” Another phone call followed two days later: this time the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces spoke to Russia’s defense minister.
According to the Tehran Times, Mohammad Bagheri and Sergei Shoigu discussed recent developments in Russia, bilateral military relations and regional security issues. Bagheri has invited the Russian defense minister to Tehran.
“The uprising in Russia is no reason for Iran to distance itself from Russia,” Arman Mahmoudian told DW. The lecturer in Russian and Middle East studies at the University of South Florida studied in both Tehran and Moscow. In an interview with DW, he added: “Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2013), Iran has pursued an east-oriented foreign policy. Russia plays an important role for Iran. Especially after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran (2018), hardliners in Iran consider Russia to be a trustworthy ally. They see the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to prove themselves as Russia’s partner.”
Mahmoudian expects the war in Ukraine to become more brutal as a result of the uprising by the Wagner group, which has almost made it to the gates of Moscow. Putin wants to show strength to the outside world. In February 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine and has been trying to bring down the government in Kiev for 16 months. For this war of aggression, the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, needs every conceivable help.
According to the US, Russia has deepened its military cooperation with Iran. Both countries are expanding their unprecedented military partnership, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in May. Russia is particularly interested in modern Iranian combat drones. Iran has supplied Russia with more than 400 drones since August 2022, Kirby said. The USA and the EU have therefore imposed further sanctions on Iran.
In early June, British broadcaster Sky News also reported on a leaked document purporting to prove the delivery of Iranian ammunition to Russia. The document, dated September 14, 2022, seen by Sky News, is said to have also listed 16 pages of the delivery of tank and howitzer shells. According to Sky News, the documents were presented to both Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. If the documents actually prove to be credible, investigations will be initiated, it said.
Cooperation in the shadow of US sanctions
At the same time, Iran is suffering from the sanctions that have been decided against Russia. Both countries finance themselves primarily through energy exports. They are considered rivals in global markets. Russia’s sales markets have now become significantly smaller due to the sanctions. That is why Russia is offering oil and gas at significant discounts to countries like China, India and Turkey. But they are considered Iran’s traditional customers.
“Iran will not distance itself from Russia. But under these circumstances, Iran is trying to have a de-escalating effect towards the West – for example by indirectly negotiating with the USA,” says expert Mahmoudian. According to media reports, the USA and Iran are working on an informal agreement in the conflict over the nuclear program.
The United States is trying to contain Iran’s nuclear program through unofficial negotiations. According to the New York Times, plans are in place for Iran to limit its uranium enrichment to 60 percent and, above all, to increase its cooperation with international nuclear inspectors. In return, for example, the US economic sanctions should not be further tightened.
So far, Iran has hardly benefited from the planned expansion of economic relations between Moscow and Tehran. That should change, Russia promises. By the end of the year, Russia wants to conclude a free trade agreement with Iran and four other countries in the region.
According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, the deal aims to strengthen economic cooperation between countries stretching from the borders of Eastern Europe to western China. To this end, Moscow is in talks with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran.