МОСКВА, 29 января 2022, Институт РУССТРАТ.

Many experts initially assessed the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Russia not as an ordinary protocol event, assuming that the new Iranian president would begin to build a fully-fledged strategic partnership with Russia, which Tehran and Moscow had previously tacitly postponed, despite the alliance in the Syrian direction.

At the same time, the arguments on this topic were arranged in a logical chain. It’s for the first time in 30 years that Raisi found himself in Russia, which during this period was in a tough confrontation with the West. Moreover, his speech in the State Duma is historically unprecedented. Iran, as a major power in the Middle East, received a public opportunity in Moscow to speak with an unequivocally anti-Western position.

Moreover, theoretically speaking, Iran and Russia have common positions in the region almost everywhere: in Syria, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. There are problems in the strategy of joint actions. At the same time, there is a different alignment of forces that highlights the features of Raisi’s visit to Moscow.

The fact is that Iran has entered the «truce cycle». Once, seemingly irreconcilable enemies began to negotiate. Negotiations are underway in Vienna on the return of the United States and Iran to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and there are chances for a successful conclusion of this complex diplomatic duel.

The talks between Riyadh and Tehran ended with statements of the parties’ readiness to restore diplomatic relations. Now, six years later, the first Iranian delegation has arrived in Saudi Arabia to participate in the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah. It is possible that the parties will attempt to end the bloody and costly war in Yemen.

It can also be assumed that peace between Riyadh and Tehran will entail the establishment of relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the UAE recently reopened its embassy in Syria. In Lebanon, it may be possible to form a stable unified government, negating the conflict between Sunni and Shiite parties led by Hezbollah.

There is also a chance for the implementation of the Iranian “Hormuz Peace» project to create a system of collective security in the Persian Gulf region. Thus the conclusion suggests itself: potentially, if Iran signs a new agreement on its nuclear program, it can neutralise external pressure, which will give it a good opportunity to strengthen its influence in the Middle East. That is, Raisi did not arrive in Moscow with an empty diplomatic bag, and the timing of this visit was not chosen accidentally by the parties.

However, at the public level, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about cooperation between the two countries on the Syrian track and expressed concern about the situation that is developing in Afghanistan. As for Raisi, he said that the Iranian side had handed over to its Russian colleagues «a document on strategic cooperation between the two countries, which can determine the future for at least 20 years ahead”.

According to experts, this document is somewhat similar to the comprehensive cooperation agreement signed by the foreign ministers of Iran and China in March 2021. However, the details of President Putin’s negotiations with Raisi are unknown.

Nevertheless, Raisi’s visit and its probable outcome significantly increased the level of anxiety in the United States, Israel, Europe and some Arab states — their allies. Especially since the heads of Russia and Iran highly appreciated the cooperation in resolving regional problems, in particular, the Syrian issue. Earlier, Iranian Assistant Foreign Minister Ali-Asghar Khaji announced plans to hold a summit in early 2022 with the participation of the guarantor countries of the peace process: Russia, Iran and Turkey.

However, Raisi believes that it is necessary to «expand the geography of cooperation”.

The specificity of relations between the two countries is such that it is very difficult to summarise the main factors affecting the climate between Moscow and Tehran. At current stage, it can be assumed that the position of Iran in the region as a country that prevents the spread of American influence suits Moscow. But the fact is that Iran has its own broad geopolitical ambitions. Moreover, it is beginning to get into the situation of the «great game» that Russia imposed on the United States, presenting the Americans with a number of problems related to the global security structure of Europe.

To understand the level of this «game», it is enough to pay attention only to the chain of facts voiced: the Iranian ports of Chabahar, Bandar Abbas and Bushehr may be under the protection of the Chinese and Russian military, and now «long-term agreements on multilateral cooperation are being worked out”.

If this is the case, then Putin and Raisi have laid out a convenient geopolitical patience on the card table, and the United States has not at all got a zugzwang poker position.

In general, of course, a fully-fledged alliance between Russia and Iran opens up unique political and geopolitical opportunities for the two countries. How close it is is another question. In any case, Moscow will carefully consider the Iranian proposals and make counter-proposals.

Институт международных политических и экономических стратегий Русстрат

(@russtrat)

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