The Russian-Iranian War: A Tactical Partnership of Convenience or Deeper Strategic Realignment?
The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War brought unprecedented military and economic cooperation between Russia and Iran, two crucial players on the Eurasian Grand Chessboard. This alliance has sparked debate over the nature of their agreement and whether it represents a more thorough strategic realignment or just a tactical alliance of convenience. Understanding the historical intricacies of Russia-Iran relations, which have seen periods of geopolitical rivalry, proxy wars, and direct military engagements since the start of diplomatic links between the two governments in 1521, is crucial to correctly understanding this cooperation.
Russia and Iran have had complicated and multifaceted relationships throughout history, marked by cooperation and conflict. Despite fighting each other six times, the two nations eventually built strong political, economic, and cultural relations. Iran, then ruled by the Pahlavi dynasty, firmly allied with the United States in opposition to Soviet expansionism and communism during the Cold War. But following the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran began to fight both the US and the USSR and launched a proxy conflict against the Communist regime supported by the USSR in Afghanistan. During the Iraqi-Iranian War, the USSR gave substantial military assistance to Iraq.
Despite moments of disagreement, Russia and Iran began a collaboration in the 1980s based on their shared antipathy to the US and their own geopolitical and geoeconomic objectives. After the fall of the USSR, this alliance deepened, resulting in political, military, and commercial connections and nuclear cooperation. When the Syrian Civil War broke out, Russia helped to keep the Syrian government in power by inviting Iran to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and becoming a significant supplier of military hardware to Iran. Notably, Russia fought against the US decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran and withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), further solidifying their partnership.
The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War introduced a new dimension to the Russia-Iran relationship. Iranian leaders acknowledged their awareness of Russia’s security worries in light of NATO’s enlargement to the east. Iran called for a ceasefire and a political solution but refrained from endorsing Russia’s actions directly. With numerous high-level contacts between their leaders and officials, the conflict gave Iran and Russia a chance to deepen their political ties.
Russia became Iran’s fifth-largest trading partner due to the conflict, which helped bilateral trade between the two countries continue to expand. Russia became Iran’s most significant investor after making major investments there. A $40 billion energy agreement between the two nations was also signed. Russia expressed a growing interest in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which connects Russia to India via Azerbaijan and Iran. For both countries, this development has significant geo-economic value.
The fighting also sparked strong military collaboration between Russia and Iran. Iran provided Russia with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ammunition, and Russia reportedly thought about giving Iran cutting-edge military hardware. The US and the European Union were concerned about this expanding military collaboration, which prompted new sanctions against both nations.
Despite their increasing cooperation, Russia and Iran’s alliance is based on tactical expediency rather than genuine strategic agreement. Iran continued to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine while refraining from directly endorsing Russian actions there. Additionally, the Middle East, South Caucasus, and Central Asia are areas where both nations have different strategic objectives, restricting their cooperation.
The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War has undoubtedly intensified the already comprehensive ties between Russia and Iran. Although the alliance is still in its early stages, its tactical and transactional nature suggests that it will continue to work together in the near future. Their opposing geopolitical objectives and the changing global chessboard dynamics will continue to influence how Russia and Iran will interact in the future.