Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, center, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo prior to their talks at the Saadabad palace, in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (AP)

By Track Persia

July 28, 2022

In the past few days, Tehran announced it was holding a summit with Russia and Turkey. The summit came days after US President Joe Biden visited the Middle East for the first time in his presidency, with stops in Iran’s regional foes Israel and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which he has urged to increase oil output to ease a price spike related to the Ukraine war.

Khamenei called for stronger “long-term co-operation” with Moscow, according to a statement on his official website that noted both Moscow and Tehran are aggrieved by Western sanctions.

Ostensibly, Tehran’s summit which was hosted by Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi was aimed at ending more than 11 years of conflict in Syria. Both Tehran and Moscow have supported the dictator Bashar Asad’s regime in Syria, while Turkey has supported rebels against Asad’s forces.

The summit reflects how desperate Tehran is to show the world that it is not isolated and can form a strong front with Russia and Turkey to face the ten-state front that was convening in Saudi Arabia even though it had hoped it could convince more countries such as Armenia and India to participate in the summit, but obviously, it had failed.

Losing hope of reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement in Vienna was another incentive for the Iranian clerical regime to hold the shortly planned summit with Russia and Turkey. Tehran must have realised that exerting pressure on the United States to lift Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the terrorism list and insisting on receiving compensation for the suspension of its nuclear agreement was a mistake made on its part as it has dearly harmed its position during its talks with world powers in Vienna. The talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal have eventually come to a complete collapse.

Internally, Iranian officials have begun to blame each other for the collapse of the talks in Vienna. Addressing the Iranian parliament, the former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticised Iranian MPs for the failure of the negotiations, avoiding direct criticism of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who is directly responsible for Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the world powers. Rouhani said: “Iran could have ended US sanctions in March 2021, had it not been for the parliament’s decision on the nuclear file.”

What does Tehran want from Moscow?

The deteriorating economy and the chaotic politics in the Islamic Republic have profoundly weakened the position of the Iranian clerical regime there. On June 27, 2022, the regime managed to convince Russia to sign an agreement on expanding economic and political cooperation between the two countries. This agreement ignores the sanctions currently imposed on Russia and Iran by the West and formalizes the cooperation between these oil producer counties to evade Western efforts in preventing them from exporting their oil.

Tehran will provide Moscow with several hundred drones, in addition to training Russian forces to use Iranian-made drones, according to American circulated reports. However, Iran’s foreign minister denied that.

The agreement between Tehran and Moscow is believed to confirm joint efforts to militarily support each other. In return for supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Iranian regime is expecting Russia to back its destabilising activities in the region and maintain its position in Syria. However, despite being under pressing issues, in particular, the war in Ukraine, Moscow will unlikely appease the Iranians unlimitedly.

In Syria, the Russians seem to have reached unofficial Russian agreements to avoid war with Israel,  Tehran’s ostensible enemy, because of the continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces there. Subsequently, there has been evident mistrust between Tehran and Moscow despite their military cooperation in this war-torn country.

The fact that Putin participated in Tehran’s summit shows the extent of isolation he put his country in because he invaded Ukraine. His visit to Tehran is the first trip for him outside the former Soviet Union since his war on Ukraine.

Additionally, new revelations suggest that Russia is competing with Iran for dominating the oil market in China and India. Very large crude carriers which had previously carried Iranian crude have recently been reported to have carried Russian oil. Similarly, dark ship-to-ship transfers of Russian Urals in the Atlantic are growing. They involve tankers that have previously carried Iranian crude, according to these revelations.

However, the Russians will unlikely to appease the Iranians at the expense of other regional states, such as  Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan which have remained neutral on the Russian war in Ukraine despite their strong relations with the United States, their major military exporter.

Additionally, Tehran is trying to use Moscow to pressure the United States to return to the negotiation table in Vienna. However, Moscow is fully aware of Tehran’s intention as the Iranians had previously used Moscow to reach an agreement in Vienna.

Can Tehran use Turkey to antagonise foes?

Interestingly, the Iranians whose main rhetorical slogan is fighting Israel and its allies have invited Turkey which has normal relations with Tel Aviv. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed he attended the summit to press his case for a military campaign against Syria’s Kurds at the summit, despite Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had earlier warned Turkey against such action. Khamenei told Erdogan such an offensive would be “detrimental” to the region and called for the issue to be resolved through dialogue between Ankara, Damascus, Moscow and Tehran.

Turkey deeply opposes any semiautonomous Kurdish administration in the oil-rich northeast region of Syria. Erdogan pledged to launch an offensive against Kurdish armed rebels back in 2019, but recently he has reiterated his intention to launch such an onslaught. He had urged Russia and Iran to back his efforts to fight “terrorism” in Syria and any future “separatist terror organisations” before the end of the summit that he attended in Tehran.

The Turkish President always accuses Kurdish rebels of using neighbouring countries for launching insurgency activities against his country. In 2019, he struck an agreement with Washington and Moscow under which these countries would support Turkey in its endeavours to keep Kurdish rebels 50 Km away from Turkish borders with Syria. However, Erdogan complains that this agreement has not been implemented by these countries. Both countries have instead asked Erdogan to exercise restraint.

Tehran intends to use Turkey to form a hostile front against its foes in the region, in particular, the oil-rich Saudi Arabia. However, President Erdogan has recently sought to normalise relations with these countries including the Saudi Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. There is no indication that Erdogan is willing to ruin his country’s relations with these states for the sake of the shaky relations with Tehran.

About Track Persia

Track Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.