Iran’s President Rouhani is currently in Moscow at the head of a big Iranian delegation for comprehensive talks with Russian President Putin and with other members of the Russian leadership.
The importance the Russians attach to the talks is shown by the fact that photographs show that President Putin received President Rouhani not in the Senate building in the Kremlin where he has his office and where he normally receives foreign visitors, but in the much larger and more magnificent Grand Kremlin Palace. Though this may seem a small point, the intensely protocol conscious Russians will not have made it lightly, and the choice of venue for the meeting shows the importance the Russians attach to Rouhani’s visit.
Though the official documents produced by the meeting have still not been fully translated into English, it is clear that they cover the full range of Russian – Iranian relations, with Russia strongly reaffirming its support for the nuclear agreement, which Donald Trump and his administration have called into question.
In addition it seems that there are agreements that Iran should join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (the Chinese and Russian led security organisation that is slowly shaping up as the Chinese – Russian alliance’s alternative to NATO) and for intense cooperation between Russia and Iran in economic and technology matters, with Russia apparently agreeing to supply modern civilian aircraft to Iran and to cooperate with Iran in the development of civilian nuclear power technology.
In addition to the public agreements there are certain to be various secret agreements, for intelligence sharing and the like. These will certainly include defence related agreements and, possibly, agreements related to defence technology transfer.
The Iranians have confirmed that despite Russia’s highly publicised withdrawal from the Hamadan air base last summer, the Russian air force is continuing to use Iranian air space and Iranian facilities on a “case by case” basis to conduct air strikes against the Jihadis in Syria.
Iran has also recently published photos of its indigenous Karrar tank, which as many have pointed out bears a striking resemblance to the Russian T90. Whilst Iran has substantial engineering and industrial resources of its own, the similarity between its Karrar tank and the Russian T90 may mean that there has been some degree of technology transfer between the two countries, with both countries for obvious reasons wishing to keep the fact private and to conceal the extent to which defence technology cooperation between them may already be taking place
A few months ago I wrote a piece for The Duran in which I said that Russia and Iran, though edging closer, were not yet friends or allies. The signs that their relationship is now burgeoning into a full fledged alliance are however now becoming inescapable.
All this explains a great deal about the Iranian nuclear agreement. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, all the indications are that Iran terminated its nuclear weapons programme following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. This was because the Iranian nuclear weapons programme was never intended to challenge Israel or the US, whose nuclear arsenals are many orders of magnitude more powerful than anything Iran could ever hope to achieve, but because it was intended to protect Iran from Saddam Hussein, against whom Iran had fought a terrible war in the 1980s, and whose nuclear weapons programme was reputedly within roughly a year of success at the time of his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Once Saddam Hussein was defeated in 1991, with his nuclear weapons programme dismantled over the course of the 1990s, Iran downgraded its own nuclear programme which it had initiated in response to his, and once Saddam Hussein had been overthrown following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran ended its own programme completely.
Since then Iran has sought security for itself not by challenging Israel and the US to a nuclear arms race – something Iran knows it could never win, and which would be far more likely to provoke a devastating US – Israeli attack on itself than provide it with security – but by integrating itself into the Eurasian institutions, which would provide it with a Chinese and Russian security guarantee.
This has been the Iranian objective for at least a decade (former Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke of it often) and now finally, with the UN sanctions against Iran that stood in the way at last out of the way, it is finally happening, even if some people in Washington are trying to complicate the process by imposing unilateral sanctions on Russian companies involved in trading with Iran.
As for the Russians and the Chinese, bringing Iran into the Eurasian institutions integrates what is by far the single wealthiest and most powerful country in Central Asia into these institutions, rounding out the process of Eurasian construction, and adding Iran’s huge energy complex, significant industrial base, and young and well-educated population, to the resources of ‘Greater Eurasia’.
As for Israel and the US, the Russians will no doubt try to explain to both of these countries that integrating Iran into the Eurasian institutions actually enhances their security by giving Moscow and Beijing a decisive say over Iran’s actions. Whether the Israelis and the Americans are in any mood to listen is another matter.