September 4, 2022:
Since February, Russia has been suffering economically and militarily because of its invasion of Ukraine. That has forced Russia to adapt and that means establishing closer relationships with Iran. Russia already has a number of diplomatic, economic and military relationships with Iran. At the same time Iran has a lot more experience operating as an outcast or pariah state. In the past Russia was the senior partner when it came to deals with Iran. Because of the Ukraine sanctions, Russia needs Iran more than the other way around. Iran is able to dictate terms and gain a lot of trade concessions from Russia.
This realignment became tangible in June when Russia and Iran signed a new agreement that expanded economic and political cooperation between the two nations. This agreement ignores sanctions currently imposed on Russia and Iran and formalizes the cooperation between the two oil producers to evade Western efforts to prevent Iran and Russia from exporting its oil. The new agreement also confirms joint efforts to support each other militarily. Iran has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while Russia backs Iranian threats to other Middle Eastern oil producers. This does not include unofficial Russian agreements in Syria that keep Israel and Russia from going to war because of continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia continues to support Iranian efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi government.
This new arrangement means problems with Israel-Russia understandings in Syria. Israel sometimes fires on Iranian forces operating near the Israeli border. Israel also shares intel with Russia and Syria about Syrian officers who are secretly working for Iran. The Iranians pay well, and in dollars. Israel will sometimes release evidence of this to the media so Iranians back home have another reason to oppose Iranian foreign wars. Negotiations have been underway between Iran and Russia/Syria since 2020 but have not made much progress. Covert Iranian violence is just another incentive for Syria to get the Iranian agents out of the area.
Israel has not been providing any weapons to Ukraine because of Iranian activity near the Israeli border in Syria. Israel needs to maintain good relations with Russia to deal with the Iranian threat. Russia told Israel that sending weapons to Ukraine could reduce Russian cooperation in Syria against Iran. Most Israelis support Ukraine, but the Iranian threat is very real and next door, so Israeli politicians cannot ignore it unless they want to lose their next election. Russia does not want to lose its relationships with Israel but now Iran is in a position to force the matter. Russia appears to be seeking a compromise with Israel that will not offend Iran.
Other parties in Syria have been renegotiating relationships in Syria. In May Syrian leader Bashar Assad made an unannounced visit to Iran, apparently to negotiate how Syria and Iran would take over Russian bases and any Russian equipment left behind. Most Russian ground forces in Syria are returning to Russia because of the war in Ukraine. These Russian troops consist of special operations forces, military advisers and tech support personnel who help maintain Russian weapons used by Syria. The departing Russian troops are first moved to a Russian controlled airbase near the Mediterranean coast and then flown back to Russia. Some of the abandoned bases were transferred to Iranian control and used by Iran-backed militias, including Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran is one of the few countries to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has even sent the Russians some weapons via the Caspian Sea which borders Russia and Iran. The Assad visit was announced after he left Iran to return to Syria.
Russia is not used to being the junior partner but desperate times require uncommon adaptability to survive. Russia has had to accept Chinese terms for their economic relationship. Israel is particularly difficult because that relationship goes back to the founding of Israel and has proven to be well worth maintaining. Iran can be a major problem for Israel because of the new Iranian arrangement with Russia.
Ukraine is already feeling the impact of Iranian support for Russia. Iranian UAVs are showing up in Ukraine, but have not proven as effective as Russia hoped. Iran also assigned some of its hacker groups to support Russian efforts in Ukraine. That did not lead to Cyber War attacks on Ukraine but instead on nearby NATO nations. Ukraine has a formidable reputation when it comes to Cyber War and the Ukrainians have deployed their capabilities to deal with Russian hackers trying to assist Russian forces there. That has not worked out well for the Russians and Iran does not want to join Russia on the Ukrainian Cyber War hit list.
Russia has provided Iran with a Kanopus-V satellite, which enables Iran to obtain high-resolution views of “enemy” territory and the ability to improve its overseas operations. Russia also provides many industrial items Iran has had difficulty obtaining. Russia has also shipped Iran stolen Ukrainian grain, which is popular with the Iranian population and the many shortages they have to put up with.
Russia has more attractive trade options for Iran, especially when it comes to modern warplanes. Decades of economic sanctions against Iran have resulted in no new warplanes or even spare parts for what they already had. Russia is now willing to supply modern aircraft and helicopters and even establish a joint maintenance center in Iran. This is made possible by the Caspian Sea connection. Both Russia and Iran have Caspian Sea coastlines. This landlocked sea makes it possible to easily and safely move all sorts of cargo back and forth.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin appears determined to keep the Ukraine War going as long as he can and refuses to recognize the possibility of the Ukrainians winning. That may be where some deals with Iran are going but the Ukrainians have a vote, and they are voting for more battlefield victories over Russia. Iran is impressed with the Ukrainian military successes but does not dwell on it.