Tipping the Scales:

As part of the ongoing Astana Peace Talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Tehran on 19 July 2022 and meet with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts, Presidents Ebrahim Raisi and Recep Tayyib Erdogan, respectively. This marks the second meeting between Raisi and Putin in three weeks, as the two had just met on the sidelines of the Caspian Sea Summit in Ashgabat on 29 June 2022. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Turkey and met with Erdogan on the 28th.

Iran’s Objectives

Iran clearly hopes to achieve several objectives through this historic visit:

1. Rebuttal to Biden’s Mideast Visit: Through this visit and its scheduled bilateral and trilateral meetings, Iran seeks to respond to US President Joe Biden’s recent comments while in the region between 13-16 July 2022. During his tour of the Mideast, Biden called out Iran and announced measures to target it directly. In particular, Biden signed the "Jerusalem Declaration" on the 13th during his stop in Israel, which reinforces the US’ commitment to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons. The declaration also ensures US assistance to Israel in fighting its adversaries. By hosting a summit bringing together regional and international powers like Russia and Turkey (a NATO member), Iran seems to be suggesting that it is not so diplomatically isolated. Iran also seized upon statements made by some officials in attendance at the Jeddah Summit, especially those of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. Ahead of his visit to Jeddah, Al-Kadhimi confirmed that Iraq would not discuss normalization with Israel, nor join any military or security alliance. These comments appear to signal his country’s rejection of the potential security arrangements discussed prior to the summit for countering Iran in the region.

2. Maintain Joint Coordination in Syria: This issue will most likely be the highlight of the summit in Tehran. Abdollahian stated on 18 July 2022 that the tripartite summit will discuss ways of repatriating Syrian refugees, as well as ensuring stability, peace, and security in Syria. These statements reflect and address the Turkish military’s threats against Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, as well as Turkey’s push to return displaced Syrian to their homeland and thus ease the burden of the refugee crisis off of the Turkish government’s shoulders. That being said, Iran and Russia will probably seek an agreement with Turkey on this matter in a bid to avoid a deeper fracturing in their relations. Moscow and Tehran are under American sanctions and face more intense threats of international isolation due to the stalled Iran nuclear deal talks and Russian war against Ukraine. Thus, both sides are in need of a powerful regional ally to shore up their influence in the Mideast.

3. Mitigate Food Crisis After Ukraine War: Putin’s visit to Tehran also offers an opportunity to further discuss Iran’s food crisis, which has been exacerbated by the Russian war in Ukraine. Russia supports Raisi’s stance in this regard and is helping Tehran alleviate current domestic pressures stemming from its failure to resolve the fallout of the economic crisis. On 26 May 2022, Iranian Petroleum Minister Javad Owji stated that Iran had brokered a deal with Russia to supply the former with 5 million tons of grains and wheat. He added that Iran and Russia intend to increase trade between them to $40 billion over the next year and a half by signing several other agreements.

4. Enhance Economic Collaboration: On that point, Russia and Iran are trying to strengthen their broader bilateral economic collaboration. During his visit to Tehran on 25 May 2022, Russian Deputy Chairman of the Government Alexander Novak declared that both countries had reached an agreement through which Iran will supply spare automobile parts and gas turbines to Russia in return for steel and minerals, such as zinc, lead, and aluminum. Russian reports quoted Novak as saying, "At the end of 2021, turnover was almost $4 billion, up 81%, and continued to grow in 2022 by more than 10% in the first quarter." Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also noted on 18 July 2022 that Iran and Russia will gradually give up the US dollar in their commercial dealings over time. At the same time, Iran continues to enhance its development of the International North-South Transport Corridor, a multi-modal trade network for transferring Russian commodities to India. Iran relies on this corridor in its efforts to mitigate US sanctions, especially given the dismal prospects of lifting them in light of the stalled nuclear deal talks.

5. Iranian Drone Support to Russia: Russia will likely consult Iran on its expertise in the realm of drone technology. Though Iran denied US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s allegations on 11 July 2022 that it was preparing to supply Russia with drones, this rejection does not seem definitive at this point. In its defense, Iran has previously cited its long-standing defense collaboration with Russia. However, US media outlets revealed satellite images of a Russian delegation visiting Iran twice, seemingly for the very purpose of discussing drones. If verified, this could be the start for further military collaboration between the two countries. In that case, the two nations could barter over transferring drone technology to Russia in return for modernizing Iran’s air defense with more up-to-date fighter jets.

Counter Escalation

All things considered, tensions in the region could heighten in the wake of this momentous summit. Israel previously remarked that it has no concerns over any new collaboration between Russia and Iran that may result from Putin’s visit to Tehran, even with regards to the Syrian conflict. Rather, Israel will continue monitoring the level of cooperation between both countries, especially since Israel has admitted that it will no longer rule out the military option to manage any escalation against Iran. These statements by Tel Aviv could be seen as a counter measure to Tehran’s persistent promotion of its nuclear program, as well as its efforts to boost its military and missile capabilities, all of which Tel Aviv believes are primarily targeted at it.