Relations between Russia and Persia/Iran were never easy. Between 1651 and 1828 they fought five wars for control of the Caucasus. The Russian empire ended up predominating, although it always had to endure a Persian eye on its movements in Transcaucasia. With World War II, Soviet forces allied to the British invaded Iran to secure oil supplies and end Axis influence in the Middle East. During the Cold War and until the end of the monarchy in 1979, Iran sided with the United States. After the Islamic revolution, fear united them. Every time Moscow or Tehran stood up to the American “Great Satan”, the other supported him. Now, trade sanctions from the West have brought them even closer together.
A friendship that Vladimir Putin staged when he left his orbit of influence for the first time since he launched the invasion of Ukraine to meet with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran. They were talks about war strategy, this time as allies. He brought them back together with horror. Moscow and Tehran are under the most severe trade sanctions in their history. They need each other for trade and not depend exclusively on China. There is also the urgency: to continue his Ukraine offensive, Russia desperately needs the drones that the Iranians developed.
To show that they also have a big heart, they invited Turkey to the summit. They were joined by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The three leaders chatted about Syria with a large map in hand. The three regional powers play their own interests in the war that has plagued that country since 2011. Russia and Iran supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad, Turkey in a play of influence at the gates of its territory and with the Kurdish minority as a threat. In between, Putin and Erdogan coordinated their positions to resume Ukrainian grain exports “in order to alleviate the global food crisis.”
The White House reported this week that Russian officials visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice in the past week to review Tehran’s weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine. Yesterday, under the table, the formal agreement was signed. Iran is known to have a diverse drone ecosystem and offered Russia, according to a CNN report, the Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 “killer” drones. The 191 reaches a cruising speed of about 160 km per hour with a range of 1,700 km and a ceiling height of 24,000 feet. The 129 can carry up to eight Sadid-345 miniaturized precision bombs capable of hitting moving targets. The small size of the bomb, with a range of 6 km, it is perfect for use on Ukrainian units defending cities and towns.
The Shahed 191 carries two Sadid-1 missiles internally.It has a cruising speed of 300 km/h, a range of 450 km and a payload of 50 kg. The ceiling is 25,000 feet. Iran’s Fars News Agency says the Shahed 191 has seen combat use in Syria.
Both are stealth drones, harder to detect by air defenses, and can complement each other in operations. They have the ability to undertake long-range missions to find and destroy, for example, the US-supplied HIMARS mobile rocket launchers, which are currently deployed in Ukraine, as well as to bring down Ukrainian air defenses. Also, drones are relatively cheap and expendable, unlike crewed planes.
The agreement is a qualitative leap in Russian-Iranian relations. Iran will do something for Russia that only China is capable of doing but that it does not specify so as not to face reprisals from the United States at a time when its war interest is focused on Taiwan. This makes Iran a very special partner for Russia. Yesterday, Putin and Raisi spoke of elevating their relationship to the category of “strategic.” Hemmed in by the West and its regional rivals, the Iranian government is ramping up uranium enrichment, cracking down on dissent and grabbing headlines with hard-line, optimistic stances intended to prevent the Iranian currency, the rial, from crashing. With no sanctions relief in sight, Iran’s tactical partnership with Russia has become a survival partnership.
With this military agreement, Iran also achieves something unthinkable, will deploy its weapons in the European theater of operations against air defense systems supplied to Ukraine by the United States and NATO countries. There can’t be many parallels to an emerging middle power providing such critical assistance to a superpower in real-world high-tech warfare on the front lines. Of course, enhances Iran’s position regionally and internationally.
Despite his supposed awkward position, the Ankara government also managed to impose its regional weight. Erdogan once again played his “great fixer” card, seeking a way out of the war in Ukraine and the negotiations to unblock the exit of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. Turkey, a member of NATO, it faced Russia in the conflicts of Azerbaijan, Libya and Syria. It even sold similar drones to Iranian ones that Ukrainian forces use to attack Russian forces. But Turkey did not impose sanctions on Moscow, making it a much-needed partner for the Kremlin.. At the same time, with rampant inflation and a rapidly depreciating Argentine currency, Turkey is also dependent on the Russian market.
The meeting also had symbolic significance for Putin’s home front. He showed that he still has diplomatic muscle, even as he is increasingly isolated and sinking deeper into confrontation with the West. The same effect is what the Iranian ayatollahs sought. The summit came just days after US President Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s main rivals. From Jerusalem and Jeddah, Biden urged Israel and Arab countries to confront Russian, Chinese and Iranian influencewhich deepened with the perception of the withdrawal of the United States from the region.
Precisely, the tripartite summit focused on another of the regional conflicts, that of Syria, in which Iran and Russia support the Assad regime, while Turkey supports armed opposition factions. Russia entered the conflict in 2015, joining forces with Iranian forces and using its air power to prop up Assad’s fledgling army. The differences and the convenient exits for the three in which all will maintain a quota of power in that country were exposed. But Turkey still has “unfinished business” and Erdogan once again threatened a new military offensive in northern Syria to drive US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters away from his borders. The operation is part of Turkey’s plan to create a safe zone along the border with Syria that encourages the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
A few hours before the meeting, Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a stern warning against the planned Turkish incursion. “Any kind of military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region, and benefit the terrorists,” said the top Iranian leader, stressing the need to “end the matter through talks.” In his speech, Erdogan called for solidarity in the fight against militant Kurdish groups, as well as a network led by a US-based Muslim cleric whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup. nuisances that disturb the calm of the countries where they are present”, he said. “We have to continue leading a fight against them”. This is a pending and ongoing issue.
Last week, officials from the UN, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey reached an interim agreement to ensure the export of 22 million tons of desperately needed agricultural products stuck in Ukrainian Black Sea ports by Russian underwater fighting and mines. Yesterday, Putin and Erdogan sought to clear the remaining hurdles, an important step in easing a food crisis that has sent prices soaring for vital staples such as wheat and barley. In any case, Russia continues to steal a good part of the Ukrainian grain production that it sells on the black market while the Turks look the other way.
In the tripartite, Putin was the great favored one. He received full support for his war in Ukraine from Iran’s supreme leader, which went far beyond any other Russian ally. Khamenei repeated the Kremlin’s argument that the United States and Europe had left the Kremlin no choice but to invade Ukraine. “War is a violent and difficult undertaking and the Islamic Republic is not at all happy that people are drawn into a war,” the Supreme Leader told Putin. “But in the case of Ukraine, if you hadn’t taken the helm, the other side would have and started a war.” There is no photo of that moment, but you can imagine Putin’s gesture of immeasurable satisfaction.
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