What Russia’s ‘anti-West alliance’ with Iran would mean for Europe

Putin aims to bolster ties with Iran as both nations face severe sanctions from Europe and the US

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of talks in Tehran
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of talks in Tehran
(Image credit: Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Iran on Tuesday to shore up a new “anti-West” alliance between the two sanction-hit nations.

The Russian leader yesterday held talks with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “aimed at boosting ties between the regimes” and forging what the Daily Mail called a “fearsome new alliance” in which the two countries are “united by their hatred for the West”.

During the talks, Khamenei told Putin that the West was opposed to a “strong and independent” Russia and backed Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine. His words echoed Putin’s claims that Russia was forced to attack Ukraine to prevent it from becoming a platform for Nato-led attacks on Russia.

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“If the road would have been open to Nato, it will not recognise any limit and boundary,” Khamenei told Putin. He added that had Moscow not acted first, the Western alliance “would have waged a war” to return the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014, to Kyiv’s control.

The visit is only the second time Putin has been abroad since launching his invasion of Ukraine five months ago, and comes amid warnings from the US last week that Iran is preparing to sell drones to Russia to use in Ukraine, according to The Telegraph.

A ‘single fortress’

As the West “heaps sanctions” on Russia while its costly campaign in Ukraine “drags on”, Putin is seeking to bolster ties with Iran, a fellow target of severe sanctions, which it sees as a “potential military and trade partner”, said NBC News.

The two nations have had close relations for many years, but until now Moscow has been “reluctant to forge an outright alliance with Tehran” over worries it could damage its “lucrative economic links to the West”, said The Times. The sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and European nations mean that concern is now “largely irrelevant”, with Russia now the most sanctioned country in the world.

“This is an important visit for Putin personally,” Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, which advises the foreign ministry, told the paper. “The Kremlin doesn’t want to allow itself to be isolated internationally.”

Indeed, Yury Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser, called contact with the Iranian president “very important,” adding: “On most issues, our positions are close or identical.” Meanwhile, Levan Dzhagaryan, the Russian ambassador to Iran, said the two countries were together in a “single fortress”.

The meeting comes as the US claims that Russian officials have visited an airfield in central Iran at least twice in order to review weapons-capable drones for possible use in Ukraine. The Kremlin has said military procurement would not be discussed during the talks, but Iran has not explicitly denied the US claims.

Talks with Turkey

The trip has also “crucially” offered Putin a chance for high-stakes talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “who has sought to help broker talks on a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Ukraine war, as well as help negotiations to unblock Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea”, said NBC.

Despite Turkey being a Nato member, which means it has found itself on the opposite side to Russia in conflicts in Libya, Syria and Azerbaijan, the country has not imposed sanctions on Russia, “making it a sorely needed partner for Moscow”. And as Turkey grapples with soaring inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, runaway inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, “Turkey also relies on the Russian market”.

West ‘barely’ coping with Ukrainian land war

The meeting between the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey “augurs no good”, said The Times in today’s leader, which said the talks aimed to “disrupt any effort by the United States to exercise influence in the Middle East”.

The paper noted that the Tehran talks come just days after President Joe Biden’s visit to the region, where the US president attempted to bolster ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia “on the basis that they share a common enemy: a malevolent Iranian regime that is not only pressing ahead with a nuclear programme but which also bankrolls and arms proxy forces”.

The waning of US power in the Middle East is “all too evident” and now now become an “open invitation to rogue actors such as Moscow and Tehran, both seething with anger about American sanctions”.

The paper warns that when the two powers “act in concert, serial crises risk merging into one”.

“The West can already barely cope with an all-out land war in Ukraine,” said the paper. “If the fire in eastern Europe sends sparks flying in the direction of the Middle East, then 2022 will look as precarious as 1956, the year of Suez and the Hungarian uprising against Soviet power.”

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