If we were to put the Turkish threats to invade Syria and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aggressive maneuvers aside, and focus on the most important aspect of Tehran’s trilateral summit – namely, the Russian-Iranian relations which advanced immeasurably in the private meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – then last week’s meeting in Iran was geopolitically more significant than acknowledged.
We are potentially looking at a pivotal military, political, and economic alliance that could shift the balance of power in West and Central Asia, a matter of significant concern to Europe, and the US, in particular.
Russia fills a vacuum
It was no accident that the Russian president’s second major foreign visit since his forces stormed Ukraine in February was to Tehran. His trip neatly coincided with remarks by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan alleging a Russo-Iranian military agreement that would provide Moscow with hundreds of Iranian drones, alongside a delegation of Iranian military experts that would train their Russian counterparts in their usage.
During his unexceptional visit to Jeddah to meet with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, US President Joe Biden declared that his country will not permit a strategic security vacuum in the region to be filled by the Sino-Russian alliance.
Yet, there was Putin in Tehran, taking a major step to fill this post-American vacuum, documenting his strategic relations with Iran in bilateral meetings with the country’s spiritual (Mr. Khamenei) and executive (President Ebrahim Raisi) leadership.
The Russian-Iranian alliance
Putin’s visit to Tehran resulted in a number of strategic achievements on all levels that serve to enhance this new alliance:
First, is the expansion of the BRICS organization that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which Iran – as an ascending regional power – aspires to join.
Second, Iran’s provision of drones to Russia helps compensate for its losses in the Ukrainian war and enhances its offensive capabilities. This confirms two basic things: the advanced progress and development of Iranian military industries; and Iran’s resolution of its position in this war by throwing its weight behind its new strategic ally, Russia. In return, it is possible that Tehran may receive advanced Russian military hardware like Sukhoi aircraft and the S-400 anti-missile system.
Third, Russia has directly benefited from Iran’s 40 years of experience in dealing with US economic sanctions, and it is expected that Tehran will spare Moscow from the many pitfalls it has itself encountered, given that they now face this common enemy.
Fourth, full Iranian-Russian coordination in the current energy war, as Russia ranks first in the global production and exportation of gas, followed by Iran, which ranks high in global oil production as well as holding a key position in OPEC.
Fifth, the expansion of key trade and investment portfolios between the two countries. Most notably, during the summit, the National Iranian Oil Company signed an unprecedented memorandum worth $40 billion with Russia’s Gazprom to develop two Iranian gas fields and six oil fields.
Sixth, Iran’s active participation in the new financial system that China and Russia are seeking to establish as an alternative the US-led SWIFT bank messaging system. This would potentially include the cessation of trades in US dollars, the formation of a unified collective basket of regional currencies, and increasing rial-ruble trade between the two countries.
Turkey on the sidelines
It is clear that the Turkish president’s role in this summit was limited mainly to the Syrian file. Erdogan is a man with one opportunistic foot in the Russian-Chinese-Iranian axis, and the other in the US camp.
Furthermore, it is not certain that Putin will forgive the Turkish ‘Bayraktar’ drones sent to the Ukrainian army, or that Erdogan shut down the Bosphorus and Dardanelles waterways to Russian warships, or the mobilization of Turkey’s army on the northern Syrian border and its threat of attack at the height of Moscow’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian war. But this was not the time for Putin to open additional hostilities on other fronts.
As for Khamenei, his messages to Erdogan during their joint meeting were strong and clear: Syrian-Turkish differences can only be resolved through dialogue; the security of Turkey is linked to the security of Syria; the question of Palestine is the central issue of the Islamic world and must not rely on the US and ‘Israel’ to resolve it. Essentially then, that Iran strongly opposes any Turkish attack on Syria and all normalization attempts with the Israeli occupation state.
There is no doubt that Turkey is a great Islamic state with all the power of reason, and has an open option to extract itself from the state of uncertainty it is currently experiencing, join the Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance (BRICS countries), and adopt dialogue to reach reconciliation with Syria on the basis of the “Adana 1998” agreement, which provides protection for the security of the two countries. However, it is clear that President Erdogan is of another mindset, which we do not believe is the correct one.
In the final analysis, Putin’s visit to Tehran was a historic one, establishing a Russian-Iranian alliance that will lead to the birth of a new axis which could determine the future of West and Central Asia and the future of war and peace – especially as an extension to the existing Iranian-Chinese strategic alliance.
The recent leaks that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to a lesser extent, are seeking to join the BRICS, while Egypt is seeking to launch communication channels with Iran in Muscat, probably confirm this sea of change on the horizon.