Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Volume 13 Issue 8
Author: Silvia Boltuc
The recent telephone talk between Putin and Raisi highlighted Russia-Iran cooperation on geopolitical, security, and economic issues in Eurasia and Moscow-Tehran’s desire to strengthen their partnership and collaboration on Afghanistan, Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh.
On November 15th, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin held telephone talks with his Iranian counterpart Seyed Ebrahim Raisi to discuss bilateral cooperation, including the implementation of large joint investment projects, the Iranian nuclear deal, the fight against the spread of coronavirus, and the current situation in Afghanistan, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Putin informed Raisi about the planned delivery of Russian humanitarian aid to Kabul soon, considering the current humanitarian crisis that the Afghan people are experiencing since the U.S. troops withdrawal and the Taliban rise to power.
Speaking about the Iranian nuclear deal, the heads of state stressed that they favour the full implementation of the document within the initially agreed framework.
Separately, the parties discussed the development of the situation in Syria. Putin and Raisi noted that it was essentially thanks to the Russian Federation and Iran that it was possible to preserve the statehood of the Arab republic and expressed their disposition for further coordination.
In addition, the leaders touched upon the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh. Vladimir Putin briefed on the measures taken by the Russian side to ensure the ceasefire, unblock economic and transport links, and establish a peaceful life in the region.
Undeniable, Russia and Iran are partners in different geopolitical scenarios and issues in Eurasia. The recent phone talk stressed Moscow and Tehran’s current main concerns they must face and resolve.
The humanitarian, security and political situation in Afghanistan worries both the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran (Afghanistan today: between humanitarian crisis and the Taliban rule. Interview with H.E. Khaled Ahmad Zekriya, Ambassador of Afghanistan in Italy; The new geopolitical game of Afghanistan).
Since the beginning of the Taliban offensive, the Kremlin has expressed its concern for the stability and security of Afghanistan and Central Asia. The Russian central authority has several times confirmed its commitment to support the Afghan peace process, which should be conducted without any external interference and should interest any political, social or ethnic actor involved in Afghanistan, even the Taliban. At the same time, Moscow has assured Tajikistan and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to be ready to military guarantee the stability of the region and avoid the spread or affirmation of terrorist groups (The effect of terrorism in Afghanistan on Russian-Tajik relations; Tajikistan: the Kremlin’s frontier against the Taliban).
Iran organised a meeting in Tehran on Afghanistan attended by Foreign Ministers of Iran, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and a representative from Russia to promote an inclusive government and territorial integrity and sovereignty for Afghanistan. The recent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan offers Tehran the opportunity to promote its foreign policies that under Raisi’s leadership no longer intend to tolerate the interference of foreign actors in regional dynamics (Tehran meeting on Afghanistan underlines Iranian regional strategy).
In Syria, Russia and Iran have cooperated to support Bashar al-Assad and contrast terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. This week an interdepartmental delegation of the Russian Federation visited Syria and met with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The parties discussed the restoration of peaceful life in the Syrian Arab Republic and signing a friendship agreement between Moscow and Damascus. According to the head of the Russian-Syrian interdepartmental coordination headquarters for the return of refugees, Mikhail Mizintsev, Russia and Syria will soon sign agreements on cooperation in science, industry, medicine and educational activities.
Iran has strongly supported Bashar al-Assad in the fight against terrorist groups. Considering the considerable destabilisation that the so-called Arab Spring has caused in the Middle East and North Africa, Tehran’s primary goal in Syria is to avoid any political change of the current leadership in favour of a government aligned with the United States.
The current escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh worries both Iran and Russia since Moscow and Tehran need to stabilise the Caucasus, particularly Armenia, for their economic and strategic projects in the region and avoid the rise of the Turkish-Azerbaijani leadership.
Last year the Russian Federation mediated the ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia after 44 days of fighting during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Although Moscow managed to implement its military presence in the Caucasus, deploying peacekeeping forces at the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is still volatile and characterised by escalations. The Caucasus is part of the Russian blizhnee zarubezhe (near abroad) and has a vital geostrategic role in the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Furthermore, the Turkish-Azerbaijani strong partnership alarms the Russian Federation because Turkey is a NATO member, and Azerbaijan is a vital actor in the EU Energy Security Strategy and Eastern Partnership.
Iran has an economic and strategic partnership with Armenia. Both of the countries are facing the Azerbaijani threat of an annexation of the Syunik region. The conquest of this region would grant Baku a direct link to the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic and would block Iran’s access to Armenia. Recently, the relations between Baku and Tehran have frozen. In contrast, Armenia and Iran have discussed establishing a new transit route to avoid Baku’s interference and support their bilateral trade and interconnection (Azerbaijan-Iran crisis and Tehran-Yerevan’s new transit route).
Russia and Iran are enormously involved in the Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Caucasian dynamics because these regions are part of their lebensraum (vital space). In these areas, both Moscow and Iran have a common antagonist or enemy which push them to cooperate: the United States.
In recent years Moscow and Tehran have extended their cooperation in different fields to strengthen their position in the Eurasian chessboard and promote their strategy and influence in local dynamics.
After the U.S. troops withdrawal in Afghanistan, Russia and Iran might have a different approach towards the Taliban. However, both Moscow and Tehran are struggling to avoid the destabilisation of entire Central Asia due to a potential Afghan civil conflict or the affirmation of terrorist groups in the country. At the same time, the Russian Federation needs Iran as its ally to confront another geopolitical actor that might hamper the Kremlin’s strategy in Eurasia: China and its Belt and Road Initiative.
The Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria and the Caucasus aims at supporting local governments and avoiding the affirmation of Turkey and the West.
Since Erevan is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and considering the Iranian interest in being more involved in the activity of this organisation promoted by the Russian Federation, a stable Caucasus is fundamental for the economic and logistic joint projects that Russia and Iran are implementing as the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) (Iran interests in Eurasian Economic Union: possibilities and constrain).
Since the Russian-Iranian relations have been characterised by a considerable number of meetings, official visits, phone talks, joint projects in the last years, it is possible to predict that Moscow and Tehran will continue to strengthen their cooperation to affirm their presence and power in Eurasia.