China is helping Russia improve its economy

Russia and Iran as pretty much best friends

Communication between Russia and Iran is intensifying. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in the Iranian capital earlier this week, while his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif had already made two trips to Moscow in the summer of June and July.

Two topics that are currently very important to Iran were on the agenda of these talks: the future of the nuclear agreement and the arms embargo against Iran, which, in accordance with the nuclear agreement, expires this October.

Lavrov summarized the direction he has now taken in Tehran. His country supports direct negotiations between Iran and the United States, he said. Moscow is ready to help bring about such talks. "We think it is better to address differences and open questions directly and get answers in this way," Lavrov told The Tehran Times.

The discreetly formulated offer of dialogue in the direction of Washington is the diplomatic part of the Russian-Iranian strategy. The other relies on increased military cooperation between the two countries. "We will soon open a new chapter in the Russian-Iranian military-technical partnership," said the Iranian ambassador to Russia, Kasem Jalali, on his Telegram channel shortly before Lavrov's visit. The Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamchani also documented this claim at the end of August. He had taken part in a military forum that lasted several days in Moscow.

Iran wants to buy modern weapons from Russia, such as the SU-30 fighter aircraft

Unfulfilled wish for a weapon

How military cooperation will develop in concrete terms is, however, still open. The US defense intelligence service DIA apparently has indications that Iran, after the lifting of the arms embargo, wants to buy Russian tanks, S-400 surface-to-air missiles and another missile system, reports the online magazine "Al-Monitor", which specializes in Middle East issues. . In addition, Tehran is also interested in Russian SU-30 jets, the modern pilot training aircraft Yak-130 and T-90 tanks. However, these purchases are far from being decided, according to "Al-Monitor": "There is a big difference between declaring an interest in buying weapons and actually signing a corresponding supply contract."

There is also another, writes "Al Monitor": If Russia delivers weapons to Iran, it must be concerned about their professional use. The shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane at the beginning of January - shortly after the killing of the then commander of the Al-Kuds brigade, Kassem Soleimani - showed how error-prone the Iranian chains of command are in times of heightened military tension.

Joint maneuver by Russia, China and Iran at the end of 2019

Democratization? No thanks!

The proximity of Russia and Iran is based not only on common strategic and economic interests but also on ideological ties. According to an analysis by the American "Foreign Policy Research Institute" (FPRI), Moscow and Tehran have come closer to each other because of their shared reservations about liberal ideas of Western character. "The color revolutions in the post-Soviet space and the 'Green Movement' in Iran in 2009 have increased an aversion to the democratization agenda in the West," it says.

It seems as if the opponents of the liberal ideas are currently being reformed. The joint naval exercise that Russia, China and Iran held in December last year in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman points in this direction. This maneuver - the first Russian-Iranian exercise outside the Caspian Sea - was also intended by the participants as a message to the USA, according to the FPRI analysis. The participants had demonstrated that, in case of doubt, they would not be prepared to stand idly by the activities that Washington is developing in the Persian conflict with Iran. The significantly higher technical level compared to earlier exercises underlined this claim.

Iranian refinery in the Persian Gulf

Hope for new markets

Russia and Iran are also closely linked economically. Iran, with its rich oil resources, is certainly a potential competitor in Moscow. Nevertheless, Russia provides its transport routes for the export of Iranian oil to China. Russia will make its feed-in structures available, quoted the specialist portal "Oilmouth" in August 2020 as an Iranian government representative who was not named. "The plants are to be expanded and then the Iranian crude oil is to be transported through Kazakhstan to China," the Iranian source continued. This project corresponds to the spirit of the Iranian-Chinese cooperation agreement, which has so far only become known in part.

At the same time, Russia has recently increased its investments in the transport infrastructure in Iran. From Moscow's point of view, Iran plays a major role in the development of Russian export markets. It is an important stop on the way to the Persian Gulf and the markets of Southeast Asia. Should the US sanctions ever expire, Iran can also use future trade routes to export its own goods.

Another signal for closer alliance between Moscow and Tehran could be given at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Moscow next week. Iran is only an observer in the SCO. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov spoke to his counterpart Zarif in July that Iran would soon become a full member of the regional alliance. The SCO was founded in 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; Pakistan and India have also been full members since 2017.

SCO Summit 2017 in Astana /

The filled vacuum

As different as the interests of the two states are politically and economically in some points, Tehran and Moscow are likely to agree that an alliance, however detailed, is an ideal instrument for both of them to reduce the influence of the USA in the region. Washington's partial withdrawal from the region has left a vacuum that the two partners immediately filled.