Russia-Iran Strategic Relationship: Consequences for the Middle East

by Ali Hamza

In the 21st century, the two nations have grown closer and have begun to cooperate on several political and economic issues. In 2003, a bilateral trade and economic cooperation agreement was signed between Iran and Russia, and in 2010, a protocol on cooperation in the fields of energy and industry was signed.

As a new era of realignments and transitions in the theatre of global politics dawns upon the world, the revisionist states are certain to cooperate and present a common front to the established order. The most potent challenge to the US hegemony might be China, but other regional powers have the potential to augment the challenge. Russia and Iran have been at loggerheads with the US historically.

With the change of regime in Iran in 1979 after the pro-American Shah’s government was thwarted, the US has seen Iran as an antagonizing force in the Middle East. Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union, has managed to present strong challenges to the US, whenever it has tried to alter the dynamics of Russia’s sphere of influence. Both Iran and Russia, sit at geostrategic locations of utmost importance, and their combined synergy threatens American interests globally.

Understanding the matter better

The relationship between Russia and Iran has a long history of cooperation and mutual support. In the early 20th century, the two nations were strategic allies in their fight against the British and Ottoman Empires. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the relationship between the two countries improved significantly, with Russia becoming one of Iran’s largest trading partners. In the 21st century, the two nations have grown closer and have begun to cooperate on several political and economic issues. In 2003, a bilateral trade and economic cooperation agreement was signed between Iran and Russia, and in 2010, a protocol on cooperation in the fields of energy and industry was signed.

In 2015, Russia and Iran signed a series of agreements to strengthen their economic and military ties. These agreements included a deal to build a new nuclear power plant in Iran and the sale of Russian S-300 missiles to Iran. In addition to these agreements, Russia and Iran have also established numerous joint ventures in the energy, technology, and defense sectors. The most recent agreements between Iran and Russia have focused on the energy sector. In 2016, the countries signed an agreement for the construction of a new oil pipeline between the two nations.

This new pipeline, which is scheduled to be completed by 2022, will be capable of transporting up to 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. In addition, a joint venture was established in 2018 to develop natural gas fields in Iran. This agreement is expected to increase Iranian gas exports to Russia by up to 20%.

On the diplomatic front, Iran has greatly benefited from Russia’s clout at the UN. As Iran and Russia believe in not interfering in the internal matters of other states and have strongly criticized the US strategy of changing regimes offshore, they are more aligned in their perception of a different international order.  Russia has defended Iran against US pressure over its nuclear program, with Moscow accusing Washington of trying to undermine the JCPOA. Russia has also provided diplomatic cover to Iran in its dispute with the United Arab Emirates over the three contested islands in the Persian Gulf. Russia has consistently sided with Iran in the dispute, with Moscow arguing that the islands are an integral part of Iranian territory. Russia has also been a strong supporter of Iran in its dispute with Saudi Arabia over the Yemen conflict.

Russia has also been a strong advocate for Iran in the international community, helping to ensure that the country is not isolated or punished for its actions. For example, Russia has been a vocal critic of US sanctions against Iran, arguing that such measures are counterproductive and violate international law. At the same time, Russia has also been an advocate for Iran in its diplomatic disputes with the US and other Western countries.

The relationship between Russia and Iran has had strategic importance for the Middle East. The two nations have been working together to support the Syrian government in its fight against rebels and the Islamic State. Russia and Iran have both been providing Syria with military, financial, and diplomatic support since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Russia’s support has been characterized by direct military intervention in the conflict, while Iran’s support has been characterized by the provision of arms, financial aid, and military advisors.

The way forward

The United States considers this strategic partnership between Iran and Russia, a matter of concern. Middle East has been a region of particular interest for the US, with its strategic objectives clear for all in the region. Iran’s posture as an opposing force, not only to the key US allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel but the US itself as well, has rendered it the core strategic concern for the US Middle East policy. Russia’s close ties with Iran are certain to make the US paranoid.

The Russia-Iran partnership is of particular concern for Israel. Israel has managed to oppose Iran on all fronts, alleging Iran of the provision of arms and support to Palestinians, fighting Israel’s forces. Israel has been the most vocal force in support of penalizing Iran for its actions and has scrutinized Iran’s nuclear program with attention. Saudi Arabia has also been highly critical of Iran’s role in the Middle East and identifies Iran as a belligerent force. The Abraham Accords, and the acceptance of Israel by the Arabs, are the consequence of how alliances are undergoing a transition in the Middle East. The US will ensure that its allies are provided with all kinds of military and diplomatic support to check the Russia-Iran synergy in the Middle East.

The Middle East has already been a region of consistent instability and turmoil. Zero-sum power competition and proxy wars have already tarnished peace in the region. The future will be grim if the United States and Russia-Iran keep a zero-sum approach in dealing with each other. Peace and stability in the region are only possible if the region is not made a theatre of geo-political rivalries with proxy wars, and regional security arrangements between all parties are reached upon.

This would require Iran, Saudi Arabia, and UAE to engage in constructive dialogue and chalk out regional peace agreements and deals. Israel’s unchecked belligerence also needs to be reined in by the US for preserving peace in the Middle East.

The writer is working as a Research Officer at CISS AJK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir