GP Short Notes # 649, 24 July 2022
Russia: Decoding Putin’s West Asia Power play
On 19 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin started his visit to Iran for a three days tripartite summit. Putin met his counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to discuss security, economic and regional issues. Since the war started in Ukraine, Iran has supported Russia’s claims of NATO’s expansion as a genuine security concern.
During the meeting, the supreme leader of Iran further expressed his distress about the civilian casualties yet commented that if not for Russia, the other side would have initiated the war.
During his meeting with Raisi, President Putin said: "I am very pleased to be on the hospitable Iranian soil...We can boast about record figures in terms of trade growth. We are strengthening our cooperation on international security issues, making a significant contribution to the settlement of the Syrian conflict."
Khamenei referred to the war in Ukraine and said: "World events show Iran and Russia's need for increasing mutual cooperation. NATO is a dangerous entity. The West is totally opposed to a strong, independent Russia. If the way is opened for NATO, it will recognize no limits. If it hadn't been stopped in Ukraine, it would have later started a similar war in Crimea."
What is the background?
First, Russia’s isolation. The Ukrainian crisis isolated Moscow from the international forum through sanctions and economic hindrances, which made Russia seek new alliances in the East. From colonizing Northern Iran in 1950 to creating a new avenue of cooperation, the war has drawn the West’s geopolitical enemies together. Iran needs Russia’s help to pressurize the United States to participate in the 2015 Nuclear deal and as a counter in the region. American president Joe Biden finished the Middle East trip one day before and warned that the US would not tolerate any country’s efforts to dominate another in the region through the military build-up, incursions, and threats, directly refereeing to Iran.
Second, Russia-Iran cooperation. It was limited due to oil competition. Before President Putin’s arrival Russia’s Gazprom and National Iranian Oil Company signed a memorandum of understanding for USD 40 billion, which involves joint offshore oil projects, gas and oil products swap, completion of LNG projects, and building gas pipelines, and inclusive security deals. Both being heavily sanctioned under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) by America, the leaders explored other alternative currencies and banking mechanisms for trade.
Third, Turkey’s agenda. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined the summit with a twin agenda; to settle the differences over Syria and to facilitate the UN-brokered deal between Russia and Ukraine to unblock the Black sea grain exports from Ukraine. First, Turkiye’s regional agenda in Syria has raised tensions. Turkiye wants an incursion on Northern Syrian border against the Kurdish fighters who sympathise with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist group spearheading the cause of Kurdistan, which is a legitimate territorial concern for Turkiye. However, Russia and Iran warned about possible regional instability that could be unleashed. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian commented on resolving the issues without resorting to war and displacing more Syrian refugees; Erdogan looked for solidarity and alliance for the same. Second, Russia had besieged the transportation of the Ukraine grains shipments from the black sea ports, and Putin agreed to release the grains to ease the global food shortage.
Fourth the Syrian crisis. The Syrian crisis is another high-priority dialogue of the meeting. Iran and Russia had worked closely in the Syria crisis to reinstate President Bashar Al-Assad in power and eliminating Islamic State (ISIS) from Syrian soil. Turkiye differs and supports the armed opposition factions and opposes the formation of a successful Kurdish front against ISIS.
What does it mean?
War is not only about territories but also includes political victories. The picture of the ongoing fighting is ambiguous as the west wanted to isolate Moscow, whereas Russia wanted to stop NATO’s expansion, but neither has won. In case of political victory, Russia has won this round in West Asia. American and Russian presidents visited West Asia in the week, seeking oil and political support. President Biden returned empty-handed as the Saudis strongly claim Russia to be an integral part of the OPEC+ organization, and without Russia’s support, it is impossible to bring stability to the international oil market. For Putin, apart from the deals, it has successfully created the Anti-American Axis in West Asia, as it has revived partnerships with Saudis and Iranians.
Nevertheless, the chessboard will become interesting based on the further developments of Turkiye’s plan to invade Syria and push Kurdish fighters away when the Americans have also claimed that the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) played a significant role in recapturing the territories held by ISIS. However, with the repeated setbacks and complications in Europe, will America support the Turkish plan? To validate its effort to expand NATO to Finland and Sweden, at the price of West Asian security to bleed Russia in Europe and West Asia, this would be the next big question.