On February 15-16, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan was on an official visit to Moscow to meet President Vladimir Putin, as well as his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu, Russian presidential aide Vladimir Kozhin and Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Moscow and Tehran were ready to step up their military cooperation. The two countries are also «ready to coordinate their approaches on a large number of global and regional issues», he added, speaking in the context of the growing crisis in the Middle East.
The parley agenda included global security, the situation in Syria and in the Middle East as well as specific issues related to the military cooperation between Moscow and Tehran.
On November 23, 2015, Moscow lifted a ban on nuclear cooperation with Iran after a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s leader Hassan Rouhani. Iran and Russia, long-time allies of Syria, have also reinforced their military and nuclear cooperation since the signing in July of a historic accord between Tehran and the world powers on the Iranian nuclear program.
A military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in Tehran in January 2015. Now Iranian military officials say Iran is willing to buy Russian weapons worth $8 billion.
Moscow and Tehran are also in talks on the procurement of a wide range of weapons and military hardware, including Bastion coastal defense systems with Yakhont anti-ship missiles, Yak-130 jet fighters, Mi-8/17 helicopters as well as diesel-electric submarines, frigates and T-90 battle tanks.
The parties agreed that S-300 PMU-2 long-range air defense systems would be delivered to Iran this year, according to the deal concluded before. The price tag for two S-300 PMU-2 units will be over $1 billion. 80 Iranian air defense servicemen will undergo a four months training course in Russia this year. According to Dehghan, Tehran is eyeing S-400 air defense system to enhance its air defense capabilities.
Iran wants to procure Su-30SM Flanker multirole jet fighters. A deal is expected to be inked this year.
The defense chiefs agreed that in future the focus in Russia-Iran military cooperation will be moved to joint projects with part of the production in Iran. Armored vehicles and naval weapons systems are on the priorities list.
The parties see eye-to-eye on the events in Syria closely coordinating their activities there. For instance, before the visit, Iran had opened its air space for the flight to Syria of Russian Tu-214R, an advanced newly-developed surveillance aircraft equipped with all-weather radar systems and sensor packages to perform both electronic and signal intelligence. The aircraft followed the eastern corridor from Russia to the Caspian Sea and flew onward to Syria via the Iranian territory.
The current visit has a symbolic significance as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have said they will deploy troops in Syria as part of the US-led effort against the Islamic State (IS). It seems that some kind of Gulf deployment will really take place in Syria.
Russia and Iran see eye-to-eye on the threat posed by Turkey and its Sunni allies. On February 4, Russian Ministry of Defense provided evidence to the fact that Turkey was preparing to invade Syria.
A senior Iranian commander warned Saudi Arabia on February 14 against sending troops to Syria after the kingdom deployed combat aircraft to Turkey, Iran’s state media reported. «We definitely won't let the situation in Syria to go forward the way rebel countries want… We will take necessary actions in due time», deputy chief of staff Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Aalam television.
At the Munich security conference Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev told German media that sending foreign troops into Syria could unleash «yet another war on Earth».
The warning follows increasingly aggressive statements made by Saudi Arabia and Turkey amid Bashar Assad’s gains in Aleppo.
Former Head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, Nikolay Kovalyov, a member of the State Duma’s security and anti-corruption committee, warned Turkey and Saudi Arabia against sending ground troops to Syria, saying that Russian warplanes are likely to launch airstrikes on their positions if they deploy in the war-torn country. «If the Saudi and Turkish ground forces enter Syria, they cannot be distinguished from the terrorists and Russia will act upon the demand of the legal Syrian government», he added.
The Russia-Iran agenda goes much farther than the cooperation in finding ways to settle the Syrian crisis.
Russia has been a driving force in reaching a decision on the Iran nuclear deal. During his visit to Iran last November, Vladimir Putin said that both countries would intensify industrial cooperation, for which Russia was ready to grant a $5 billion government export loan. Russia and Iran have selected 35 priority projects for cooperation in power engineering, construction, sea terminals and railroads. After all, Iran has the fourth largest economy in the Islamic world. It is an economic leader in the region with large oil and natural gas reserves. New prospects for cooperation opened in mid-January when the EU and the US lifted the economic sanctions imposed on Iran after the International Atomic Energy Agency verified Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement.
Obviously the rivalry among Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia for leadership in the Middle East and the Islamic world will intensify. Growing cooperation with Russia will strengthen Tehran’s stand. Among other things, Russia enjoys a unique position to serve as an intermediary to resolve the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It would be propitious to remember that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted both Saudi Arabian and Iranian foreign chiefs last August in the capacity of a mediator to make the parties discuss the Syrian crisis.
Speaking at a round table at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in Moscow, Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that «Iran and Russia as neighboring countries have a long history and relations that are more than 500 years old and can be instrumental for creating peace, stability and tranquility in the world and on the regional level». Ali Akbar Velayati noted that «today we are witnessing valuable cooperation in the Middle East, western Asia, in Syria in combating terrorism».
While Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some other countries seek to create tensions, Russia and Iran work together to stabilize the situation and to combat international terrorism. Together the two countries constitute a pole in the multipolar world, a counterweight to the West and extremist forces in the Middle East. The visit of the Iranian Defense Minister to Russia is a milestone in development of the relationship between the two friendly nations united by common goals.