January 28, 2023

Iran and Russia camaraderie and military cooperation

With the outbreak of the Ukrainian war, the relations between Iran and the Russian Federation got much closer.
Keywords: Iran, War, Russia, Ukraine, JCPOA, Peace, Soviet, Europe, Power, Sanctions, Strategic, World War
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Iran was very much in the foreign policy frame of Czarist Russia. The Caspian Sea has been coveted by the Russians for a long. After the establishment of the Soviet regime, Moscow turned Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan annexed by the Czars into Soviet Republics, Following two world wars, became even more important strategically and three European powers, namely Great Britain, France and Germany continued to compete for influence in the country. During the nearly three-decade gap between WW I and II, Germany was very active in helping Iran build its infrastructure. Germans were the town planners of the capital city of Tehran. The Allies, under the pressure of Great Britain — Winston Churchill to be precise — were unwilling to let the monarchical regime continue in Teheran because it was palpably pro-German. That is why Reza Shah Pahlavi was banished to Africa. But there was a bigger reason for Britain to be proactive in Iran. They had found oil fields way back in 1905 and knew the decisive importance of hydrocarbon reserves in regional geopolitics.

For various reasons but primarily political, Iran never adopted an anti-Russia stance, even under the Shah’s anticommunist rule. Although western powers would bring great pressure on countries in the Middle East to oppose Soviet policies, Iran did nothing to hurt the interests of Russia even though it was a part of the US and British-driven Central Treaty Organisation, otherwise known as the Bagdad Pact.

However, Iran’s antipathy with the Arabs in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and also her new found antagonism with Israel, pushed Iran into the vortex of confrontation with the United States of America in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. When Ayatollah Khomeini rode the fundamentalist wave in Iran, he declared that Islam rejected monarchy, and by implication, targeted the Saudi monarchy. At the root of his animus lay the ethnic misgivings between Iranians and Arabs further distanced by factional politics.

However, one fails to understand the reason why Iran has chosen to be rabidly inimical towards Israel at her own peril and thereby attracting the censure of most of the secular world. 

The US and its allies were now on the horns of a dilemma about how to deal with the unexpected threat from Iran. For nearly a decade, the US and her allies tried every means to deter Iran from pursuing her alleged nuclear military ambition as they considered it a threat to the existence of Israel. Iran resisted the pressure but affirmed all along that she would not make an atomic weapon, alleging that it was ‘un-islamic’. 

Finally, under the premiership of Hassan Rouhani, the US and its allies succeeded in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran agreed to cap its nuclear bomb Programme and the American group agreed to release the funds frozen by American banks to the tune of several billion dollars,

Unfortunately for Iran, the deal fell through when President Trump declared that the US was reneging on the deal owing to an imbalance in the conditionalities. Trump claimed that Iran was carrying out terrorist activities in different parts of West Asia. Washington imposed fresh sanctions to cut the wings of Iran. It was a disaster for that country. Iran approached some of her old European allies for reconsideration of the American approach, and Vienna became the venue for continuing talks between Iran and the other signatories of the JCPOA. Negotiations were going on when Russia struck Ukraine and the attention of the world turned to the war.

Washington brought a resolution in the Security Council condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine. It promised to provide all help to Ukraine against the Russian incursion. India did not sign the resolution for her own reasons and perceptions. Iran was among the countries that stood by the side of Russia.

With the outbreak of the Ukrainian war, the relations between Iran and the Russian Federation got much closer. A new and unprecedented chapter was opened between them, marked by military cooperation.

First, let us recount the rationale of this camaraderie. Both are reeling under the sanctions imposed by the US. Both are accused of carrying out anti-US policies. Additionally, the US charges Iran with exporting terror to the Middle East, Yemen and some other places.

Therefore, Iran and Russia become bedfellows in an environment of threat and intimidation, and would naturally seek to protect themselves and each other from the common menace. Their joint reaction has a rationale and the Ukrainian war provides the platform.

The war in Ukraine has created new opportunities for Iran to advance its interests with both Russia and the West. Iran shows interest in developing a military partnership with Russia. Rising energy costs have made Iran more valuable to both Europe and Russia. Tehran says it will reintroduce more of its oil into the international market to reduce energy prices in Europe in return for the removal of some sanctions imposed on Iran. Russia also wants to acquire Iran’s Faateh-110 and Zolfighar short-range ballistic missiles with a range between 186 and 435 miles respectively. The Russian ballistic missile arsenal suffers attrition due to its war with Ukraine.

After the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Soviet Union offered Iran 72 MiG-29 Fulcrum, 24 MiG-31 Foxhounds, and 36 Su-24 Fencers. Yet cash-stripped Iran could only purchase a smaller quantity.  

The fallout of Iran’s supply of war weaponry to Russia has angered President Biden. Knowledgeable circles predict it could result in the imposition of more sanctions on Iran. The talks for the revival of JCPOA already stalled owing to the Ukrainian war may never be revived and Iran, while battling against sanctions may eventually make a nuclear bomb.

The recent launch ceremony of the Russian state-of-the-art warship, Admiral Gorshkov, was attended by Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu via video conference. “The main focus of the mission of launching Admiral Gorshkov armed with Zircon missiles will be countering threats to Russia and supporting regional peace and stability together with friendly countries,” Shoigu said. Iran comes within that circle of friendly neighbouring states.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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