CHENNAI: In his second trip abroad since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to visit Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on Tuesday. Putin’s trip to Tehran follows US President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East last week, where Iran and its nuclear program were among the main topics of discussion. Putin will be joined in Tehran by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the meeting will address the situation in Syria, where Iran, Russia and Turkey all have a strong military presence. But the meeting will also provide a chance for Moscow and Tehran, both under severe Western sanctions, to showcase their military and economic cooperation, demonstrating to the West that they are not isolated.
Iran and the Kremlin have increasingly found common ground of late, with officials from both countries repeatedly stating their willingness to expand commercial and political cooperation. Putin’s visit comes about a week after the White House said Tehran is preparing to sell armed drones to Russia for use in Ukraine. Iran has said technological cooperation with Russia preceded the war, without confirming or denying the US claim. Amid growing diplomatic isolation, increased trade with Russia could create relief for Iran’s economy, which has been foundering under US oil and banking sanctions for years. Russia, on the other hand, sees Iran as a potential arms provider, offering a trade route and expertise in dodging sanctions and exporting oil.
The military partnership between Tehran and Moscow has been growing since the outbreak of the decade-old conflict in Syria. “But it mostly has remained a tactical cooperation over the matters of mutual interest in the region,” as Abdolrasool Divsallar, a visiting professor of Middle Eastern studies at Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, told DW. Iranian leaders, especially the conservative hard-liners currently ruling the country, had always sought to develop their country’s ties with Russia but the war in Ukraine has now made Iran a more central element in Putin’s diplomacy. Over the past few months, trade between the two countries has expanded, according to several reports by Iranian media. During a meeting with Iranian President Raisi on the sidelines of a regional summit in Turkmenistan last month, Putin noted that trade between the two countries was up 81% last year.
Despite that, relations between the two countries are complicated by energy concerns as Russia increasingly cuts into Iran’s market share in its push to find new buyers for its own oil. “Russia and Iran are in fact trade competitors, especially in the energy market,” Hamidreza Azizi, a researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW. Currently, Iran seems to be losing its already narrow share in the energy market to Russian oil, which now comes at a more discounted price.
In the last three months, for example, Iran’s monthly exports of oil byproducts dropped from 430,000 tons to 330,000, Hamid Hosseini, general secretary of the Iranian Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Exporters’ Union, told the Iranian Labor News Agency in late June. Iran’s largest steel buyers, including China and South Korea, have also shifted to buying discounted Russian steel, the Iranian daily newspaper Shargh reported on May 21.
With sanctions severely curtailing Iran’s revenues, oil exports are vital for the country, which is now facing economic crisis. The inflation rate is above 50%, but Iran has reportedly been forced to slash its oil prices to keep up with Russian discounts.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle