Vladimir Putin Visits Iran, Potentially Shoring up Oil and Drone Deals

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi hold a meeting in Tehr

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Iran on Tuesday for a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was Putin’s first foray beyond former Soviet Union territory since he launched his invasion of Ukraine in February.

“The contact with Khamenei is very important. A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the most important issues on the bilateral and international agenda,” Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said of the visit.

Sky News noted those “important issues” include shoring up the new Axis of Evil between Russia, Iran, and China. To that end, Iran is reportedly working on a major sale of combat drones to Russia for deployment in Ukraine.

Iranian ground forces commander Kiumars Heydari told a student journalist group on Tuesday that Iran is “ready to export military equipment and weapons.” 

Taken in proximity to Putin’s visit, and only a week after the U.S. accused Iran of preparing to send “hundreds of drones” to Russia, Heydari’s comment seemed like confirmation that Tehran is preparing to do exactly that.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) arrives at the airport in Tehran on July 19, 2022. Iran’s president will host his Russian and Turkish counterparts for talks on the Syrian war in a three-way summit overshadowed by fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (KONSTANTIN ZAVRAZHIN/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty)

On July 12, the U.S. State Department showed reporters an intelligence report that accused Iran of providing drone weapons to its terrorist clients across the Middle East, including Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthi insurgents of Yemen, and Iran-controlled Shiiite militia groups of Iraq. The latter Iranian proxy has attacked American troops in Iraq on numerous occasions.

The U.S. report said Russia gave Iran the blueprints to create more advanced drones, and could soon take delivery of Iranian-built drones to replace those expended or destroyed in Ukraine. The report included photographic evidence of two Russian delegations visiting Iran to examine drones.

Ukraine famously used drones to great effect against Russian forces during the early weeks of the invasion, including the affordable and effective Bayraktar drone produced by Turkey, but Western analysts believe Russia has largely neutralized the Ukrainian drone advantage and become much more adept at using its own unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). 

The problem for Russia is that it needs more drones to replace those it lost during the spring, and more recently when the Ukrainians apparently improved their own skills at shooting down Russian UAVs, but Russia’s production capacity is not up to the task. Although both Russian and Iranian officials deny it, Putin’s solution appears to involve outsourcing production to Iran’s drone factories.

Iran, in turn, would appreciate more support from Russia and China as it continues to rebuff the Biden administration’s flailing efforts to rebuild former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal. After stringing the Biden team along for a year and a half, the Iranians appear to have reached “zero breakout,” meaning they can produce enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb at will.

Iran also wants to join Russia and China in undermining sanctions as an instrument of Western foreign policy and in realigning the Middle East so the balance of power lies with Tehran rather than the Gulf oil states. 

President Joe Biden’s disastrous energy policies have given Iran an opening to exercise economic leverage with its oil exports, a strategy that would be much easier to execute with Russian cooperation. Toward that end, Russia’s national gas company Gazprom signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Iranian Oil Company on Tuesday to secure $40 billion in Russian assistance for developing gas, liquified natural gas, and oil resources in Iran. The signing was a centerpiece achievement of Putin’s trip to Tehran.

“Considering the evolving geopolitical ties after the Ukraine war, Tehran tries to secure Moscow’s support in its confrontation with Washington and its regional allies,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Putin is also scheduled to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran on Tuesday, possibly addressing Russia’s unhappiness with Turkish drone sales to Ukraine.

Erdogan, in turn, wants Putin to lift Russia’s Black Sea naval blockade of Ukrainian ports so grain can be exported, helping to avert a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion.

Erdogan is also itching to launch another military incursion into Syria against Kurdish militia groups he considers allies of the Kurdish separatist group PKK.

The Syrian Kurds want Iran and Russia to talk Erdogan out of this attack, an effort Ayatollah Khamenei launched with a public warning that Turkey could “harm the entire region” and “benefit terrorists” by invading Syria again.

The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday worried that Iran could be seeking Turkish support for its Middle Eastern policy, beginning with an expanded role for Tehran in Syria.

“Meanwhile, Turkish media reports said Turkey could still try to freeze the ascension of Finland and Sweden to NATO. This illustrates that Turkey’s real interests are working with Russia and Iran and that opposing two democracies joining NATO is one of the goals of Ankara,” the Jerusalem Post warned.


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