Putin finds a new ally in Iran, an outcast

President Vladimir V. Putin left Russia for a rare international tour on Tuesday and received a well-deserved reward: a meeting with a prominent world leader, who has voiced confirmation. sufficient for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Arriving in Iran, Putin has worked to forge an Iran-Russia alliance that is emerging as a significant counterweight to US-led efforts to rein in Western rivals. He met with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, who made statements in support of Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine that even other countries near Russia have so far failed to do.

“War is a violent and difficult endeavor, and the Islamic Republic is not at all pleased when people get caught up in war,” Khamenei told Putin, according to the supreme leader’s office. . “But in the case of Ukraine, if you don’t take the lead, then the other side will do so and start a war.”

Putin also held a Syria-focused trilateral summit with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also in Tehran, the Iranian capital.

Today’s choreography crystallizes Mr. Putin’s determination to repel efforts to sanction and isolate Russia, interacting with fellow US adversaries like Iran and with other nations like Turkey – a NATO member – there are alliances that are more confused.

Khamenei’s support for the war outweighed the much more cautious support of another key Russia ally, China, accepting Putin’s claim that the West left the Kremlin with no choice. anything other than action.

It is a signal to the world that with Europe and the United States now hitting Russia with sanctions equivalent to those that have strangled Iran’s economy for years, the longstanding relationship between Moscow and Tehran may be turning into a real partnership.

“Russia and Iran still don’t trust each other, but now need each other more than ever,” said Ali Vaez, director of Iran’s International Crisis Group. “This is no longer a partnership of choice, but an alliance in case of need.”

For years, Russia has been careful not to get too close to Iran, even as the two countries have adversarial relations with the United States and cooperate militarily after Russia’s intervention in Syria’s civil war. For Putin, his efforts to build ties with Israel and Arab countries have prevented a formal alliance with Tehran.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the calculus.

Increasingly cut off from Western markets, Russia is looking to Iran as an economic partner, as well as expertise in sanctions.

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, has signed a non-binding $40 billion deal to help develop gas and oil fields in Iran, according to Iranian reports. And, US officials said, Russia is looking to buy much-needed combat drones from Iran for use in Ukraine, an issue that was not mentioned publicly during Tuesday’s meetings. .

Ahead of Putin’s visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told Iranian television that Iran and Russia could soon sign a strategic cooperation treaty to expand cooperation in the banking and financial sectors. main. He invoked 16th-century diplomacy between Russia and Persia to set the stage for what he promised would be a new era of friendship between Tehran and Moscow.

The courtship between the two countries began even before the war began on February 24, when Russia’s tensions with the West were escalating. In January, Mr. Raisi, the president of Iran, went to Moscow. Then last month, the two met again at a regional summit in Turkmenistan, where the Russian leader sought to bolster support from countries on the Caspian Sea.

On Tuesday, when he and Raisi met for the third time this year, Putin said relations between the two countries were “developing at a good pace” in economic, security and regional issues. He said he and Mr. Raisi had agreed to strengthen cooperation in the energy, industrial and transportation sectors, and to use more and more national currencies – instead of US dollars – to denote trade by surname.

Mr. Raisi said the same thing.

“Things are developing very quickly, including our bilateral relations,” he told Putin.

Khamenei said that “long-term cooperation between Iran and Russia brings profound benefits to both countries” and called for the implementation of pending contracts between the countries, including in the gas and oil sectors. mine.

In a statement released at his office, the supreme leader called the NATO alliance a “dangerous entity” and repeated Putin’s statement that the West was ready to start a war with Russia. to help Ukraine recapture Crimea, which Russia. was merged in 2014.

“If the path is clear for NATO, they don’t know boundaries or limits,” Khamenei said. “And if Ukraine is not stopped, they will start the same war, under the pretext of Crimea.”

The war in Ukraine has forced other countries to take a fresh look at their alliances. Last week, with soaring oil prices hurting him politically, President Biden, who has vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” nation after the murder of a dissident. ​- went to Jeddah and gave it to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin. Salman.

It’s too early to say how much Iran can actually help Russia keep its economy afloat amid crushing Western sanctions – or whether competition in the global energy market or key interests will be. different values ​​can derail their partnership.

For example, as Russia pushes to find new buyers for its oil to get around sanctions, it is cutting the market share of two of its allies – Iran and Venezuela – and sparking a price war that has could hurt them all, market participants recently told The New York Times.

And even as the war in Ukraine dragged on into Tuesday’s meetings, another conflict flared up big: the war in Syria, where Turkey threatened to launch a new military offensive in two cities. northern city against Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey considers terrorists.

Mr. Erdogan described the operation as possibly a way to keep the Turkish border safe from Kurdish fighters and create an area where some of the millions of Syrian refugees have poured across the border. entered Turkey during the war may return.

On Tuesday, Khamenei warned Erdogan against carrying out such an operation. In a separate meeting, he told him that any military attack in northern Syria would be harmful to Turkey, Syria and the entire region.

During more than a decade of civil war in Syria, Iran and Russia have been the most staunch international allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But Turkey has backed armed groups fighting to remove al-Assad and has launched attacks into northern Syria.

“Terrorism certainly has to be confronted, but a military strike on Syria will only benefit the terrorists,” said one. message posted on Khamenei’s Twitter account on Tuesday along with a photo of him meeting the Turkish leader.

Mr. Erdogan has not backed down, at least publicly.

“Our fight against terrorist organizations will continue everywhere,” he said after the meeting. “We hope Russia and Iran will support Turkey in this struggle.”

Putin said the three countries had agreed on a joint statement to work together to “normalize the situation” in Syria. He made it clear that for him, this meant eliminating any Western involvement in the country and ensuring Mr. al-Assad’s rule.

“The destructive policy of Western countries led by the United States is aimed at ‘the division of the Syrian state’,” he said.

Despite their differences on Syria, the leaders are still interested in showing some fun.

Mr Putin, who has taken exceptional social distancing precautions for much of the pandemic, met the visiting leaders on a long table at the Kremlin, which can be seen chatting up close with Mr. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Raisi in a video shared by Russian state media. Erdogan stood with his hand on Putin’s back.

The three leaders gave speeches to the press sitting side by side on an armchair covered with white flowers. Putin said that the next trilateral summit would take place in Russia and that he had invited “friends of Iran and Turkey” to visit the country.

Cora Engelbrecht and Gülsin Harman contributed reporting.

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