West Asia has become a phenomenal hotspot for political powerplays between countries. Amidst the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin along with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Iran stands at the crossroads of the world powers. The three leaders discussed the Syrian and other burning issues and the region’s development.
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran on a rare international trip since Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine. He met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the agenda of the global grain crisis, the ongoing war in Syria, and the situation in Ukraine.
The visit comes at a crucial time when on the one hand, the US is aiming to corner Russia after the latter started a military operation against Ukraine. On the other, US President Biden has warned Iran of harsh consequences if it developed nuclear weapons. Russia and Iran have grown closer since the West started isolating Moscow over its invasion. Iran is also betting that Russia’s support cloud pressure Washington to offer concessions for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
“Russia’s ties with Iran are a way to balance the cloud of the United States and its alliances across the Gulf region.”
In this meeting, they made significant breakthroughs. Firstly, Iran has backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unlike China, Iran is neither being cautious nor mincing its words and offers full support to Putin. Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Putin, “War is a harsh and difficult reality, and the Islamic Republic will in no way be happy if it entangles ordinary people; in the case of Ukraine, however, if you had not taken the initiative, the opposite side would have caused (the outbreak) of war with its own initiative”. Iran is saying that if Russia had not started the war, NATO would have started the war.
Russia and Iran consider the West their enemy as they face tough western sanctions. West has isolated Iran and Russia, but Russia and Iran are now natural allies. Khamenei also told Putin that the two countries needed to stay vigilant against “western deception”.
In meeting with Putin, Iran also urged strengthening energy cooperation with Moscow. The National Iranian Oil Company and Russia’s Gazprom had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with about 40 billion dollars. The deal entails that Russia will help Iran set up more oil fields and gas projects.
Moreover, Tehran and Moscow want to further their relationship on three levels; regional affairs, security, and economics. Moving away from the use of dollars is a priority of both sides. Russia and Iran could build their own banking mechanisms. Russia-Iran Trade was up 81% last year. Much of this trade is made in local currency that Russia buys in rubles and Iran buys in riyal. They have successfully de-dollarized their bilateral trade.
Iran state TV also reported that its supreme leader Khamenei called for long-term cooperation between the two countries. Forging a new partnership with Iran, Putin created a new anti-America axis. Both parties have a lot to look forward to.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially visited and met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on July 18-19. It was Erdogan’s first visit to Iran since Raisi took office. There have been no high-level visits in the last five years due to heightened tensions between the two countries. President Erdogan’s last visit to Tehran was in 2018. Moreover, the two countries have postponed several planned visits.
Erdogan’s visit to Iran significantly developed their bilateral relations and regional developments. Erdogan and Raisi co-chaired the seventh meeting of the Türkiye-Iran High-Level Cooperation Council in Tehran.
Both countries have agreed to extend their gas supplies for the next 25 years and enhance bilateral trade to $30 billion. Several MoUs were signed in the fields of politics, economy, culture, and sports to improve bilateral relations on technical, economic, and security issues. Moreover, they emphasized cooperation in the defence sector.
However, despite all these developments, Iran has many concerns about Türkiye’s regional policies. For example, Iran raises concerns about the relations between Türkiye and Israel. Iran does not want Türkiye, or any other regional state, to normalize its relations with Israel.
In the bilateral meetings, the Foreign Minister of Iran stated, ” “We understand very well Türkiye’s security concerns on the Syria issue. We also understand that it raises the possibility of organizing a special operation. We believe that Türkiye’s security concern should be permanently resolved as soon as possible. I want to repeat once again that for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Türkiye’s security means Iran’s security”.
Regarding the international sanctions on Iran, he further stated, “We have always been against unilateral sanctions against Iran, and we do not find these sanctions right. We hope that all parties will take necessary steps to make the nuclear deal work again”.
This is not a new phenomenon. However, successful efforts to reverse the rapidly shrinking trade relationship between Iran and Türkiye, which have underpinned a historically competitive relationship, may be qualitative and catalyze less restrained and more open rivalry.
Syria – A Major Concern Among the Leaders
The leaders of Iran, Türkiye, and Russia gathered for a summit on Syria, Ukraine, and other global issues. The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine were on the agenda as Vladimir Putin, Ebrahim Raisi, and Recap Tayyip Erdogan met in Tehran. The trilateral summit aimed in large part at helping in restore peace and stability to Syria. The three countries are considered guarantor states of the peace in Syria, known as the Astana format.
Erdogan is planning a military operation in northern Syria to drive the Kurdish fighters away from the border and resettle Syrian refugees in the region. Russia and Iran are trying to stop this. Both countries support Basser Al Assad’s regime in Damascus and cannot stand by if Türkiye attacks him. So, Iran’s supreme leader has asked Erdogan to reconsider his decision, saying that a Turkish attack would be detrimental to security.
However, in response to their request Erdogan says that terrorist organizations are a severe nuisance to both countries and their nuisances disrupt the calm of the countries where they are present. So Türkiyea needs to continue to lead the fight against them in solidarity. Russia and Iran changed the tide of the war, but now Erdogan is threatening a new offensive.
Three presidents expressed their opposition to the illegal seizure and transport of all revenues that should belong to Syria and rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground. The trilateral statement came after Erdogan urged the other two leaders to support him in combating terrorism in Syria. Erdogan is talking about Türkiye’s legitimate concerns, and Iran and Russia are also united in those concerns. They are creating a new power centre in the region.
Putin’s visit to Iran truly opens a new chapter. Iran’s right-wing radicals have always advocated closer ties with Russia. Today they are in power, so both Putin and Raisi will be keen to expand their relations. Russia and Iran are competitors in the global market because they both sell the same things, steel and oil.
Unlike Russia, Iran has a certain concern about relations with Türkiye. Türkiye and Iran are major interdependent countries that form the backbone of regional stability. It is evident that the countries cannot be ready to alternate their national interest by otherizing one another. So, there is no choice but to improve relations with other regions and pursue inclusive regional policies. They must strive to develop win-win relationships and prioritize areas of common interest.
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About the Author
Anwar Shahid is an Academic professional in International Relations and Political Science with a broad knowledge of Research and Analytical Skills. He is currently working as an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Beja Model College of Arts and Science, Nettanige, Kasaragod, Kerala. He has keen interest in the areas of International Cyber Security, Contemporary International Politics, Foreign Affairs, Diplomacy and Indian Politics.