Iran and Russia Forge New Partnerships in Oil and Drones – The Organization for World Peace
With the war in Ukraine well past four months, on July 19 Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran, where he received warm support for his violent foray into Eastern Europe. In Iran, Mr Putin met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei not only offered verbal support for the war, but also agreed to supply up to 300 drones to Russia, according to US intelligence. This partnership, which existed in a more timid form before the war, quickly solidified, as Russia found itself increasingly isolated from the world economy, as Iran had been for years. Iran offers Mr. Putin a chance to form an economic partnership and learn from a state that has experience operating under harsh sanctions.
Khamenei, taking a far more decisive stance than Russia’s fair-weather Chinese partners, told Mr. Putin that “War is a violent and difficult business, and the Islamic Republic is not at all happy that people are caught up in war. But in the case of Ukraine, if you hadn’t taken the helm, the other side would have and started a war. Behind these feelings lies a growing bond between the two nations, commercially and diplomatically. Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s Iran director, described the need felt by both sides to continue ties, saying: “Russia and Iran still don’t trust each other, but now they have more than ever need each other. It is no longer a partnership by choice, but an alliance by necessity. Yuri Ushakov, the Russian foreign policy adviser, told reporters in Moscow that “contact with Khamenei is very important. A dialogue of trust has been established between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda.
Oil remains an important part of the Russian-Iranian relationship. Rising oil prices due to the war in Ukraine could give Iran more leverage to press for concessions from Washington in negotiations over the renewal of a 2015 nuclear deal, where Iran has agreed to slow nuclear development in return for easing sanctions. Huge Russian energy company Gazprom, which is seeking to keep a foothold in energy markets, has signed a non-binding $40 billion deal to help develop Iran’s gas and oil fields. However, oil could become a source of contention as Western sanctions have forced Russian producers to look to eastern markets, which traditionally bought from Iran. In particular, Russia’s deeply discounted gas sales to Beijing have dramatically reduced Iranian crude exports to China. It is a blow for the Iranians, who leave nearly 40 million barrels of their oil on tankers in the Asian seas, in search of a buyer. This will be an important development to watch, because as Russia lowers prices and finds new customers to sell around sanctions, they are increasingly pushing allies Iran and Venezuela out of the market. A Canadian-based political analyst pointed out that “Iran is at a very economic and political disadvantage in the post-war environment in Ukraine.”
Military relations between the two countries seem to be strengthening. A White House revelation reported that during Putin’s visit to Iran, he implored Iran to help the Russians replenish their stocks of armed and unarmed surveillance drones. Senior US officials have said Iran is ready to supply up to 300 remotely piloted aircraft and will begin training Russian troops on how to use them shortly. This collaboration has been in the works for months, with a Russian delegation visiting Iranian airfields twice in early summer 2022. According to US satellite images, the Russians examined the Shahed-191 and Shahed-129 drones. Iran has extensive experience in developing and flying drones. In the past, they have provided drone technology to Houthi rebels in Yemen, Shia militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On the war front in Ukraine, especially in the Donbass, drones are critical to success, having played an important role in modern warfare, insurgency, counter-terrorism and even in operations like conventional. Samuel Bendett, a specialist in Russian drones, reports that “while the Russians still have drones, they don’t have all the types they need”. Throughout the fighting, Russia has used most of its precision-guided weapons and the drones it uses to help guide long-range artillery strike targets. It also lost dozens of reconnaissance drones and struggled to build large quantities of armed drones and remotely piloted aircraft capable of flying for long periods of time. In what has become essentially an artillery war, small unmanned aircraft play a critical role in Russia’s ability to target Ukrainian forces and communicate coordinates to longer-range weapons. Drone sales have yet to be publicly confirmed, but will represent a major shift once completed. according to PW Singer, a New America strategist: “Russia is used to selling military hardware to nations like Iran, not the other way around.”
As the war in Ukraine continues, Russia’s relationship with Iran will certainly continue to evolve. Given that President Biden visited Israel and various Arab countries around the same time as Mr. Putin visited Tehran, it is clear that two opposing blocs have formed in the Middle East. However, most see the Iran-Russia axis as a partnership formed out of necessity by two entities that are ultimately business competitors. Abdolrasool Divsallar, visiting professor of Middle Eastern studies at Cattolica del Sacro Cuore University, told DW that “Much of Iran’s motivation to work with Russia is driven by its pressing economic needs and lack of alternatives. Iran cannot reject its relations with Eastern powers like Russia, as long as there are no options in the West. Experts are divided on whether opening Western markets to Iran will weaken its attachment to Russia, possibly depriving Mr Putin’s regime of a supporter in its crusade to burn democracy to ashes Ukrainian. It will be up to the United States and NATO allies to decide based on their reading of Iran’s broader intentions: will they concede nuclear restrictions and human rights requirements and allow Iran to enter Western oil markets desperate for relief from exorbitant prices, or will they adhere to a policy of isolation?