Iranian-Russian relations have been close for years. Now they are to become even closer, declared Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi when he received the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, in the middle of the week. His country has a negative attitude to the war against Ukraine. This is “worrying,” said Raisi. At the same time, however, Tehran and Moscow would raise their relations to a “strategic” level. Because this is “the most decisive answer to the sanctions and destabilization policy of the United States and its allies.” Raisi’s guest Patrushev himself is on the sanctions lists of the EU and the USA.

General Ali Shamchani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, also praised the Iranian-Russian partnership and specified its goals. They want to improve cooperation in the areas of energy, transport, agriculture, trade, banking and the environment and use the capacities of multilateral organizations. Among them he counted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Iran has been a full member of the SCO since 2022.

The relationship between Moscow and Tehran is complicated, said political scientist Ali Fathollah-Nejad. Both countries are in rivalry with the United States. “That unites them,” said Fathollah-Nejad in the middle of the week at an event organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. However, in the past Russia has also proved to be an extremely opportunistic actor. In the course of the nuclear conflict, Moscow has always opposed sanctions against Iran. But the UN Security Council then voted for them. “Because Moscow did not want sanctions on Iranian energy to be lifted in order to have competition for its own energy supplies. Hence the corresponding voting behavior in the UN Security Council.”

This thought pattern changed in the Kremlin after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Since then, Russia itself has been under Western sanctions. Exporting Russian gas and oil is not easy. Moscow is therefore looking to close ranks with new old allies.

Immediately before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran in July 2022, the Russian energy company Gazprom signed a cooperation agreement worth around USD 40 billion with the Iranian oil company NIOC. Gazprom supports NIOC in the development of two gas and six oil fields. More orders worth millions in connection with the construction of pipelines between Iran and Russia are now being discussed, according to Patrushev in Tehran this week.

According to an analysis by the Carnegie Foundation, however, it is unclear whether the cooperation will actually bring the benefits both countries are hoping for. Even if the growth forecasts were realized, the trades between the two countries represented less than one percent of Russia’s total foreign trade.

In any case, Iran is likely to be an economically difficult partner from a Russian perspective. As a result of international sanctions, the country with a high budget deficit is not fully solvent internationally. To date, Tehran has not been able to pay the $500 million bill from Russia for the construction of the nuclear mile in Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. The nuclear power plant went online in 2011.

It is therefore questionable whether Russia’s involvement will pay off economically. According to the Carnegie Foundation, “If Moscow is concerned with increasing its political influence in Iran, this approach may be justified.” “But it certainly won’t do anything to save the Russian economy at a time of sanctions,” it concluded.

Political scientist Fathollah-Nejad believes that cooperation in the political-military area could bring short-term results. However, Iran is also creating new problems for itself. “The Russians see Iran not least as an instrument to cause headaches for the West.” That is why Moscow wants to use all means to prevent the nuclear agreement between Iran and the West being revived. “That would bring Russia disadvantages.”

Just days ago, Tehran admitted it had sold drones to Russia, albeit in what it said was a “limited” number and months before the war began. The justification suggests that Iran is unwilling to engage in uncontrolled confrontation with the West. However, says Fathollah-Nejad, Moscow apparently let Tehran fall into a trap. “Iran is now seen as a player in the Russian war against Ukraine.”

The very best friendship has a high political price, political scientist Markus Keim from the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics told DW. “Both countries lied about the war in Ukraine. That has consequences. The already limited relationship of trust between the western states in both countries has been severely damaged. Of course, this has an effect on the possible cooperation in the future.”

Author: Kersten Knipp

The original of this article “Iran creates new problems with the Russian friendship” comes from Deutsche Welle.