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Russian-Iranian Relations in the Context of the RF Special Military Operation in Ukraine

Author: Vladimir Kirichenko

Affiliation: Institute of Oriental Studies, RAS

Organization/Publisher: Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Date/place: June 24, 2023/Moscow, Russia

Type of Literature: Research paper

Word Count: 4389

Link: DOI: 10.31249/rmw/2023.04.05

Keywords: Iran, Russia, Ukraine, Special Military Operation, Cooperation


The global geopolitical scene has witnessed seismic shifts in the aftermath of the ‘Special Military Operation’ [SMO] initiated by Russia in Ukraine. This comprehensive review endeavors to dissect the multifaceted nature of Iran-Russia relations, meticulously examining the underlying rationale for Iran’s support of Russia, the economic intricacies of their collaboration, and the broader geopolitical implications of this alliance. By contextualizing the post-SMO developments, this study seeks to offer a comprehensive understanding of the evolving dynamics between these two nations.

To fathom the complex nature of Iran-Russia relations, a nuanced exploration of Iran’s geopolitical calculations is paramount. Iran’s alignment with Russia can be attributed to its perception of Moscow as a crucial strategic partner. This alignment is deeply rooted in shared concerns over what Iran perceives as destabilizing actions by the U.S. and NATO on the global stage. Iranian President Raisi’s articulation of this understanding underscores a solidarity born out of opposition to what Iran views as U.S. hegemony.

In other words, the lack of shared borders between Iran and Ukraine in addition to their poorly developed economic ties lead Iran to prioritize Russia over Ukraine, as the latter has become an increasingly significant strategic partner for Iran. This, however, did not lead to Iran recognizing the Russian annexation of the Crimea, Donbass, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, which the paper attributes to Iran’s fear of further sanctions by Western major powers. Another factor that is mentioned as a motivating factor for Iran’s alignment with Russia is the concerted hostile policies and sanctions of Western states, led by the United States, against the Islamic Republic. 

Nevertheless, the economic dimension forms a pivotal facet of the Iran-Russia partnership, particularly in the face of enduring sanctions imposed on both nations. The economic ties between Tehran and Moscow have not only weathered these challenges but have witnessed a noteworthy 15% increase in trade turnover, reaching a substantial $4.6 billion in 2022. This economic collaboration spans diverse sectors, including agriculture, energy, and military trade. The recent agreement on merging payment systems and the prospect of a joint oil and gas hub underscore the deepening economic integration between the two nations.

Beyond economic dimensions, the strategic collaboration between Iran and Russia extends to military cooperation. Iran’s decision to procure Russian Su-35 fighter jets and the alleged transfer of Iranian drones to Russia signify a convergence of interests in the defense realm. While Iran officially denies the supply of weapons to Russia, the depth of collaboration in this sphere assumes heightened significance, especially in the context of the SMO and its far-reaching global ramifications.

The ramifications of the Iran-Russia partnership extend far beyond their bilateral relationship, shaping regional and global power dynamics. The proposed expansion of the North-South transport corridor, linking Russia, Iran, and India, serves not only their economic interests but also poses a considerable challenge to existing geopolitical structures. Collaborative efforts within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Iran’s application to join BRICS further highlight the evolving global dynamics influenced by this strategic partnership.

Despite the strategic congruence, challenges and controversies have surfaced, adding layers of complexity to the Iran-Russia alliance. Iran’s reluctance to recognize the aforementioned regions as Russian territories and Ukraine’s subsequent imposition of sanctions against Iran bring to light the delicate balancing act Tehran needs to perform. Allegations of Iranian drones being used in the SMO have triggered international condemnations, revealing the intricacies and sensitivities surrounding this partnership.

Expanding our lens to the broader geopolitical tapestry, the Iran-Russia alliance emerges as a pivotal player in the post-SMO era. As the global landscape undergoes transformative shifts, this partnership not only challenges existing power structures but also contributes to the reconfiguration of regional dynamics. The interplay between Iran, Russia, and other global actors within forums like the SCO and BRICS signifies a strategic realignment that merits a meticulous examination.

Analyzing the global implications of the Iran-Russia relationship necessitates a consideration of the broader power shifts in the international arena. The Iranian-Russian alignment challenges the hegemonic influence of traditional Western powers, particularly the United States and its NATO allies. The assertion of Iran as a key player in the SCO and its application to join BRICS imply a departure from the established geopolitical order, presenting an alternative axis of influence.

The economic integration between Iran and Russia unfolds as a compelling aspect of their alliance, particularly in the face of sanctions. The 15% increase in trade turnover in 2022 underscores the resilience of their economic collaboration. The merging of payment systems and the proposed joint oil and gas hub not only solidify economic ties but also position these nations as key players in shaping their regions’ economic architecture.

The military collaboration between Iran and Russia, especially in the procurement of Su-35 fighter jets and the alleged transfer of drones, introduces a layer of complexity. The disagreements about the use of Iranian drones in the SMO underline the delicate nature of this alliance and the geopolitical sensitivities it entails. The strategic depth of their military collaboration extends beyond bilateral interests, contributing to the ongoing reconfiguration of global defense dynamics.

The debates surrounding the Iran-Russia alliance, particularly Iran’s reluctance to recognize certain territories as Russian and the imposition of sanctions by Ukraine, necessitate a nuanced understanding. Tehran’s delicate balancing act reflects the intricate challenges of maintaining geopolitical partnerships amid shifting global dynamics. The intricacies regarding the supply of Iranian drones, despite official denials, underscore the diplomatic tightrope both nations walk.

In conclusion, the multifaceted nature of Iran-Russia relations post-SMO indicates the need for a host of geopolitical, economic, and strategic considerations. The strategic sympathy between these nations, underpinned by shared concerns over American hegemony, forms the bedrock of their alliance. Economic collaborations despite enduring sanctions demonstrate the resilience and depth of their partnership. Military cooperation and controversies surrounding the alleged transfer of drones add additional layers of complexity, contributing to the ongoing reconfiguration of global defense dynamics.

As we navigate this complex landscape, the implications of the Iran-Russia alliance extend far beyond bilateral interests. The global shifts in power dynamics, economic integration, and military collaboration signify a departure from established norms, challenging traditional Western hegemony. The ongoing realignment within forums like the SCO and BRICS underscores the emergence of alternative axes of influence.

However, challenges persist, and these controversies demand careful navigation. The delicate balancing act undertaken by Tehran reflects the intricate challenges of maintaining geopolitical partnerships amid global shifts. As the global landscape continues to evolve, the Iran-Russia relationship stands poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the contours of international politics. This academic review seeks to offer a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted Iran-Russia relationship, providing valuable insights into its present state and future trajectories on the global stage. It serves to provide a foundation for further scholarly inquiry into the evolving nature of this alliance and its profound implications for the international geopolitical order.

By Setareh Sadeqi, CIGA Non-resident Researcher



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