Axis of Convenience: Why Iran’s Partnership With Russia Endures
Axis of Convenience: Why Iran’s Partnership With Russia Endures
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 1 minutes

Axis of Convenience: Why Iran’s Partnership With Russia Endures

In July 2022, as Russia’s offensive in Ukraine was sputtering and Moscow was running low on weapons, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made a major announcement: Iran was providing or preparing to send Russia unmanned aerial vehicles. Tehran denied the accusation, but it quickly became apparent that Sullivan was correct. Between September and November, Russia bought hundreds of Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones. Moscow then used these drones, which are small, simple, and hard to detect, to target Ukrainian cities and critical infrastructure, helping knock out roughly half the country’s power. The drones also helped exhaust Ukrainian resources, allowing the Russians to preserve their own.

In a way, it made perfect sense for Iran to sell weapons to Russia. Iran and Russia are now both isolated from most of the world’s great powers, and so they need all the help they can get. Yet the degree of cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in Ukraine is remarkable in light of the two powers’ acrimonious past. There is no love lost between Russia and Iran, which have a tumultuous history of distrust and betrayal. They fought against each other in multiple wars. Russia meddled in domestic Iranian affairs. Even on geopolitical issues where they famously cooperate, such as the Syrian civil war, the two countries have frequently sparred.

The current relationship between Iran and Russia is still not exactly warm; it looks much more like a business partnership than a genuine friendship. But although a formal alliance between Iran and Russia is still a long way away, their cooperation could prove highly effective. The two sides have grown adept at compartmentalizing different facets of their relationship to ensure that they can partner when it suits them. Their ties span the economic, political, and military spheres. And both Iran and Russia have discovered that the other has much to offer. “We are both antisanctions and against the intervention of the West in the affairs of other countries,” an Iranian diplomat told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity. (The Iranian government has a fraught internal debate over just how close its ties to Moscow should be.) Their partnership, he said, “was only natural.”

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs' website.

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