Reports have varied with regard to whether Russia could be convinced to negotiate in good faith. And on Monday, positive reports appeared to suffer a blow in the midst of an anticipated visit to Tehran by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Much of the coverage of that visit pointed to an apparent expansion in the Russian-Iranian alliance, making it ostensibly more likely that the two governments will remain largely of one mind on their Middle East policies.
Indeed, the Jerusalem Post reported that a Kremlin spokesperson had acknowledged at least some ongoing overlap between their positions on the Syrian Civil War. Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are said to have agreed that other global powers should not be allowed to “impose their will” on Syria, as by making the ouster of Assad a precondition for a political solution. Russian officials had previously said that they would not accept such a precondition, but also that they would consider restraining Iran if Assad’s ouster was agreed upon within the security conference.
While it was generally understood that Syria would be the main focus of high-level meetings during Putin’s visit, the Russian president was also there for a natural gas conference, reflecting only one part of the emerging economic collaboration between the two Asian powers. Reports from the various meetings suggest that Russia and Iran will be moving forward on a number of plans to work together on energy projects, including not only oil and gas but also the nuclear power generation that many in the West consider to be a cover for Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Agence France-Presse reported that Moscow had used the visit as an opportunity to ease restrictions upon working on Iranian nuclear enrichment sites. Such moves are justified by the July conclusion of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, which includes Russia. But that agreement has yet to go into effect, as it is first necessary for Iran to dismantle aspects of its existing nuclear program, including about 14,000 centrifuges and the core of the Arak heavy water facility.
Iran must also limit its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium to less than 300 kilograms, and one option for doing so is to ship the excess to Russia.
If activities continue in line with current expectations, this will be a drop in the bucket where exchange between Iran and Russia is concerned. On Monday, the Iranian propaganda network Press TV claimed that Russian media had announced a total of 21 billion dollars’ worth of new contracts, reflecting Iranian-Russian collaboration on aerospace, infrastructure, and energy, all of which is to go into effect in the wake of the nuclear agreement.
Before that agreement was ever concluded, it was already used to justify the restoration of contract for the transfer of an advanced S-300 missile defense system from Russia to Iran. Reuters reports that on the occasion of this weekend’s visit, Iranian ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanaei claimed that Russia had begun transferring this equipment to Iran under a new contract.
While this news is sure to give rise to some alarm among opponents of the Iranian regime, it is also notable that it comes after several previous such claims, paired with several previous delays. Some analysts have concluded from the slow progress of the transfer that Russia has been making an effort to forestall a lawsuit while keeping the issue alive as a potential source of leverage over both Iran and the West. Such speculation contributes to the notion that certain Russian policies may still be able to be turned against Iran’s interests.
On the other hand, if the alliance continues to grow stronger, there is considerable danger that it will not be limited to interactions between Iran and Russia. Iran News Update has repeatedly called attention to analysis and concern regarding the possible emergence of an Asian bloc consisting of these two nations as well as China and other, smaller partners, all of which could challenge Western interests across the globe while undermining the dominance of US currency.
While most recent focus has remained on instances of collaboration between Iran and Russia, this does not mean that China is out of the picture. Highlighting this fact, the Economic Times reports that there has been ongoing discussion about a possible high-speed rail connection between China and Iran. The new political climate of the nuclear agreement raises the possibility of such issues being considered more openly. Toward that end, China’s railway authority presented a new Silk Road railway proposal at a Chinese engineering forum last week.