In its attempt to get free from global isolation, Iran is actively recovering its economy. The Iranians realize that today they need higher living standards but well aware of the processes developing in the Middle East, they are also seeking to build a collective security system in their region. This may become a good alternative to the US-controlled NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council and an opportunity to gain more influence on regional politics.
Recent contacts of Iranian top military officials with their Russian counterparts should be treated in this very context. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan visited Moscow on Apr 27-28 to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu and to be among the first speakers at the 5th Conference on International Security. Later Shoygu twitted that Iran and Russia are committed to actively cooperate against terrorism. They are already cooperating in Iraq but Dehghan’s visit may become a new page in this cooperation.
That visit was a response to Shoygu’s visit to Tehran – the first visit of a Russian defense minister to Iran in more than 15 years. Among the other Iranian military leaders who visited Moscow this year were Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani and Commander of the Quds Force Qasem Soleimani, one of the key fighters against terrorism in the Middle East. It was Soleimani who helped the Russians to find their Su-24 shot down by Turkey and to save its air navigator Konstantin Murakhtin. The UN Security Council has prohibited Soleimani to go abroad but this is not an obstacle to him. And one of the key events that preceded Dehghan’s visit to Moscow was the renewed deal to supply Russian S-300 systems to Iran. So, we see that Iran and Russia are planning to cooperation not only against terrorism but on a more global level.
When Iran was under sanctions, Russia had no chance to support it and was even forced to join some anti-Iranian resolutions, but now things have changed. Today Russia is also facing sanctions and needs new allies. It has the Eurasian Union, but in order to feel safer, it is trying to create something equivalent to NATO and here it needs much stronger friends. Initially, the Iranians and the Russians planned an economic union but now in the face of growing pressure from the Americans and the Israelis and open hostility from the Turks, they are considering a military-political alliance.
In Moscow, Dehghan met with colleagues from Armenia, Pakistan, Belarus and Afghanistan. According to experts, this is an attempt to enhance own security in the face of growing instability in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone.
Contacts with Russia are just part of Iran’s security strategy. Should there be war, the Iranians already have allies like Armenia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah. But this is not the whole list of potential allies. In Moscow, Dehghan addressed China and India, who are Iran’s close trade partners.
With China Iran has lots of serious economic projects, while with India it is planning to lay a gas pipeline via Pakistan.
Russia appears to be a “weak link” here. Though having a number of common interests, the sides have just a $1.25bn trade turnover against $52bn worth trade between Iran and China. Even more, the Russians have contradictions with the Iranians concerning the oil output freeze initiative and the costs of the Garmsar-Ince-Borun railway and Bandar Abbas TPP projects. But military initiatives are still prevalent in Russian-Iranian relations and may help the sides to overcome their economic disputes.
Africa may become one of the pillars of Iran’s future collective security system. On Apr 24, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma, with security being one of the key topics of that meeting. Zuma expressed support for Iran’s position on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the civil war in Yemen and the situation in Palestine. Even more, during his last meeting with Zuma, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei called him to unite against Western imperialism.
Iran’s efforts to build a regional security system are really impressive as they go as far as Russia and South Africa in the north and south and Lebanon and China in the west and east. But the Iranians are yet very far from creating a real alternative to US-controlled alliances as they are facing strong resistance from the Americans’ allies, continuing decline in oil prices and smoldering conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But if they succeed, they will change the global geopolitics. And this prospect encourages them to steadily move towards their goal.
Anton Yevstratov, specially for EADaily